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Software Robotics

Smart Self-Service Scales 279

Posted by kdawson
from the ready-for-my-closeup-mr.-demille dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "German researchers have developed intelligent self-service scales for supermarkets, able to recognize fruit or vegetables placed on them (photo). The scales automatically recognize the item being weighed and ask the customer to choose between only those icons that are relevant, such as various kinds of tomatoes. The scales are equipped with a camera and an image evaluation algorithm that compares the image of the item on the scale with images stored in its database. Store managers can add items to the database. The scales are now being tested in about 300 supermarkets across Europe."
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Smart Self-Service Scales

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  • From me (Score:2, Insightful)

    by niceone (992278) *
    It would be more useful the other way round: if I told it they were tomatoes at it could figure out exactly what type they were.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      If it could figure out the type op the tomatoes, it should also be able to recognize the things as tomatoes...
      • by Narpak (961733)
        So basically digital scales with a small computer screen displaying price, weight and information about the product would satisfy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My friend used to buy only onions. Coca-Cola onions, chicken onions, etc. Instead scanning the barcode he used to put them as loose items. The cheapest ones were onions. So he always had lots of receipts for several kinds of onions. Funny, illegal but saved him quite a lot of cash.

      No he'll need to behave like proper citizen...

    • Re:From me (Score:4, Funny)

      by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Monday August 18, 2008 @08:31AM (#24643495)

      I can't stand these systems. I said TomAto. It said ToMato. Then I went and tried to get some PotAtos. It said poTato.

      Then I just called the whole transaction off.

  • Too bad.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by matt4077 (581118) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:01AM (#24642711) Homepage
    I quite enjoyed the apparent abolition of self-service scales in favor of weighing fruits at checkout. Let's hope they don't make a comeback.
    • Re:Too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aproposofwhat (1019098) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:10AM (#24643049)

      But given the level of knowledge of the average checkout person, this might be more useful at the tills - having to explain to the staff what 'fennel' or 'parsnip' (I kid you not - it actually happens) is can get kind of frustrating after a while.

      I can see this technology helping the checkout staff - of course, staff training might help as well (looking at you, Tesco...)

      • No kidding!

        "No, that's endive... this is parsley, and that is cilantro."

        Could be worse. I cant count the number of times I have bought romaine for the price of iceberg.

         
      • Re:Too bad.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Mesa MIke (1193721) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:25AM (#24643097) Homepage

        Around here, the cashiers don't have to know what it is. Just throw it on the scale and type in the PLU code that's on the sticker.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by e2d2 (115622)

          I think they are talking about fruit and veggies you bag mate, the ones without any stickers. There is no associated code on the bags and the attendant has to know the type of food before weighing it.

          This device could help identify the various types that look similar. Although I gotta wonder how it's gonna handle the difference between a McIntosh and a Red Delicious apple. From the article it seems that it will just identify "apple" and then give the user choices. Which makes me wonder how much more useful

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Mesa MIke (1193721)

            I don't know who they pay to do it, but over here (in New Mexico, anyway) the grocery stores have nearly every piece stickered. Every last apple, orange and peach. And all the veggies, too. Our cashiers can be (and often are) blithering idiots.

      • We have so many plants out there that common people just call them weeds because it'd be too hard to learn names for everything. If you had a hand held device that told you what type of plant you're looking at, you could have names for everything. There is a lot of potential for things like this.
        • by jacquesm (154384)

          I"m sure there is enough DNA in there for a sample to be taken without decreasing the weight by too much :)

          That should give just about enough information to label the species.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          If you had a hand held device that told you what type of plant you're looking at, you could have names for everything.

          The problem is that no such device exists not because we can't build the device but because there is such a paucity of taxonomists and so many varieties of plant life that we don't really have a bead on how much is out there. If you can't build a database, having an interface for it is useless. Data first.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by maxume (22995)

            Yeah, because it would be such a disaster for taxonomists if they had a machine that they could point at unfamiliar plant life and press a button that said "Is this in the database".

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          Right - and these plants just uproot themselves from the jungles of darkest Peru, randomly arrive in the supemarket and teleport themselves onto the shelves do they?
      • by catwh0re (540371)
        It's because McDonalds doesn't sell fennel or parsnip.. meanwhile after looking at the image, the recognition might not be much more than comparing the average hue against the known blue weighing platform..
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by smchris (464899)

        Yeah. Daikon in my case. Isn't that just an indication these people _won't_ be retrained as rocket scientists? I hate auto-check-outs and never use them. More work for me, I assume more profit for the supermarket instead of lower prices, and I get to pay for somebody's unemployment/retraining. And, to be honest, you go back to the same place every week, there is the sociological angle as some of them become "familiar strangers". Why do I want to crap on them?

        Nonetheless, "reprogramable" object recogni

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Narpak (961733)
        Well knowing all the PLU codes for all the types of vegetables can be hard, depending on how big a selection the store has. Used to work at a grocery store; had a very very wide selection of stuff. I imagine any vegetable recognizing application would be useful regardless of whether you weight on scales in the shop or at the checkout.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          That depends on how granular it gets. It sounds like it could only narrow it down to "apple" or "tomato"; the weird stuff that drove me batty as a cashier would probably just come up as "weedy thing"...
    • Re:Too bad.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sirambrose (919153) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:53AM (#24643233)
      My grocery store has self service scales and I really love them. They are meant to be used with the portable self checkout scanners. The scanners allow me to scan and bag my groceries as I shop. When I leave, I pay at a small kiosk by the door. I don't have to wait in line even if I shop when the store is very busy. I wish this sort of system was more common.
  • Oblig. (Score:2, Funny)

    by elguillelmo (1242866)
    I for one welcome our new intelligent self-service weighing overlords
  • Not shown in picture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by frisket (149522) <peter.silmaril@ie> on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:08AM (#24642729) Homepage
    Except that the linked picture shows strawberries on the scales, but the screen shows a choice of all kinds of other fruit and veg, not different kinds of strawberry.
    • by pimpimpim (811140)
      That is because at that store the strawberries are sold only in 500g packages, and are not at all in the database. There are two solutions to this: 1. enter the 500g strawberries in the database put output on the screen that these things need not be weighed. 2. Have a PR-department that has not only a sense of aesthetics (strawberries look good on pictures), but also have a clue about what they are doing. Why would you put a picture of your new machine behaving faultily in a press release!!!!
  • Which is better for me as a customer, having someone in checkout that just grabs my tomatoes and enters the price, bags them, or, a stupid robot that makes me do everything. This technology doesn't benefit me at all, it benefits the store. I refuse to use it.

    • We should get a discount for doing all the work and saving them a salary or two. Of course we pump our own gas now and it is just a matter of time until they turn it around and start charging a premium to scan and bag.
    • Exactly. The only way you'll get me to do the job of the cashier is to give me a small discount on my purchase. I'm saving the store money by using the self-service checkout (which hardly ever works properly), so there needs to be some benefit to me to use it. And also it's rarely quicker than the regular line (person in front of you wants to use a coupon, or the item doesn't ring up at the price marked on the shelf, etc).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tibman (623933)

        I like the self-checkout, it's fast and convenient. Kroger's works great, Walmart's isn't that good (i dislike the store a bit too, tbh).

        But the small discount is probably doable if we take the money saved and convert it. Let's say they convert 2 normal lanes into 6 self-checkouts. That removes 1 employee (still need one to oversee the self-checkouts). Let's say 9 US dollars an hour is saved. You could get a discount of 15 cents US per minute. Ah, but wait, there is 6 self-service lanes which means yo

    • > Which is better for me as a customer ...

      Wait a minute.
      You've made a treacherous assumption.

    • by ricegf (1059658)

      The benefit for me is in time - self-checkout lanes are always open and usually available, while the few full-service lanes open usually have a 2-4 person queue.

      Perhaps that's thanks to your unwillingness to use self-checkout, come to think of it. Thanks! :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Corbets (169101)

      here in Switzerland, self service produce weighin is everywhere. People accept without comment, and indeed seem to have nothing against it.

      I suspect these devices will see much broader deployment in Europe than the US.

      • by legirons (809082)

        In the UK it's occasionally seen (although you can't use them if you're buying beer since the machine can't verify age)

  • by jimicus (737525) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:24AM (#24642825)

    I don't know how widespread these are outside the UK, but ever used one of the self-service checkouts that are appearing? Scan item, bag it, scan next item etc...

    Great idea. Except that the whole point is to save time, and these things were clearly never tested by someone in a hurry because it's trivially easy to scan and bag faster than the checkout can keep up. Well, it would be except the damn thing refuses to scan item 2 until item 1 has been bagged and it takes forever to register that item 1 has been bagged.

    They're only faster if the supermarket is full of technophobic customers and the checkouts have a queue going out the door.

    • by Hognoxious (631665) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:35AM (#24642875) Homepage Journal

      I tried the self scan in a Delhaize in Belgium ... when you go to pay the girl takes everything out of the bag and scans it again. I don't quite see how doing something twice works out faster.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        I tried the self scan in a Delhaize in Belgium ... when you go to pay the girl takes everything out of the bag and scans it again. I don't quite see how doing something twice works out faster.

        They used those over here for a while - you walked around with a little scanner and you were "randomly" chosen for rescanning.

        The machines I'm talking about are intended to replace the "10 items or less" checkout with a machine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by will_die (586523)
        That is as bad as the old system you saw in alot of Communist countries, seen in Poland, czechoslovakia and Bulgaria.
        There you would go to one person they would select the items you wanted from behind the shelves and place them in a basket, this would then be passed on to the second lady who would then total up your costs and give you a paper listing your total, the basket would then be passed to a third lady who would wrap up your items and place in bags you provided and that would finally be passed to th
        • by jacquesm (154384)

          That was actually for two reasons: the first was that everybody was obliged to work, so many jobs that were not strictly necessary were created, the second to make it harder for employees to steal from the store.

        • by nbert (785663)
          On the other hand it makes full employment more feasible. In China they have a very similar system for all kinds of services. When you check in at a hotel with 4 other people there are at least 6 people behind the counter (one person who speaks English would be much more useful btw). In restaurants it happens that more waiters are standing around your table than the number of guests. It can result in a rather creepy experience IMO.
          In general the system is somehow inefficient but there's enough cheap manpowe
        • by mspohr (589790)
          This system seems to also be prevalent in a lot of the Commonwealth countries. For instance, a small bakery shop in Lahore has one person to select and package your items, another to write up a list and price it, and a third to collect the money (go back to the second person to collect your pastry).
    • by RMH101 (636144) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:41AM (#24642909)
      Great idea, flawed execution - you're not wrong. Whilst I still use them at my local Tescos, I use them because I take a calculated guess that I can deal with the self-service system and its bugs and short queue quicker than queuing up in the long line at the conventional checkout line.

      I'm usually the guy who's standing there muttering "C'mon, c'mon!" under his breath whilst waiting for the damn thing to recognise that I really have scanned my purchase and placed it on the checkout roller. The annoying thing is you could see how it could be really great - better scanners, faster recognition: swipe, bag, insert card and you're done.
      (Thinking about it, having self-checkout that's a bit of a pain to use unless you're slightly geek-savvy might not be a bad thing - keeps the queues down for us)

      On a related note, to those of you who also buy clothing at supermarkets, bear in mind the self-service tills neither offer to remove the security tag from clothing, nor remind you that there's one present. Happily, there's lots of guides on the internet that'll walk you through removing these things at home using nothing more complex than a butane lighter.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        The annoying thing is you could see how it could be really great - better scanners, faster recognition: swipe, bag, insert card and you're done.

        Even more annoying: if you've ever worked in a supermarket, you'll know that the scanners on the "normal" checkouts are very reliable and very fast. How they messed up the implementation on the self-service units I don't know.

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:43AM (#24642921) Homepage Journal
      I saw one at woolworths here in Melbourne which crashed to a windows desktop. The staff got a bit upset when I started to play with it. It would have been interesting if there were any test or debugging tools floating around. Perhaps I could have "fixed" it for them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drspliff (652992)

      "Please remove your item from the scales"
      WTF.. there's nothing on them
      "Please put your items in the bags to the left"
      I only got a sandwich and a can of coke!
      "Please put your items in the bags to the left"
      *hrmmm*
      "Please remove your item from the scales"
      *cancel*

      I hate those infernal machines!

  • by grungeman (590547) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:35AM (#24642877)
    Just a few days ago when I was shopping with my family at a "real" store (maybe comparable to WalMart in the US) in Potsdam (near Berlin), I was confronted with this kind of scale. The scale looks similar to the standard self service scales, but it sports a touch screen instead of the panel with selection buttons. The camera is also included in the touch sceen.

    After I had placed a clear bag with nectarines on the scale it displayed a number of selections that it considered the appropriate type of fruit. None of the selections came even close, so I had to select "nectarines" manually on the touch sceen.

    Generally this is a nice idea, but it just does not seem to work, maybe also because we always place the fuits in bags before putting them on the scale.
  • Half the time, self-checkout scales are badly calibrated. To exacerbate this issue, about half the people who use them don't realize they operate on product weight.

    This leads to accusations of theft when people lean on the wrong portion of the machine, or simply out of nowhere because the AC kicked in blowing onto the scale.

    Adding yet more application of the scale's reading toward functionality will create even more glitches in this regard.

    Additionally, the self checkouts in my area are used at nazi-mart,

    • it's based on photo scanning now..

      we all know image recognition is so much more advanced than weight sensitivity.

      a little smear on the scanner (all the scanners ive seen even on the human operated machines are filthy) and it's mistaking apples for oranges, oranges for grapefruits, and pineapples for watermelons.

      I stand by my analysis though, and predict utter failure if implemented.

  • by damburger (981828) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:37AM (#24642887)

    We have stopped making things, and now increased automation is rendering the service industry pointless. To be honest, like most of the public, I would rather deal with a machine than another human being, if only because that other human being is inevitably some slack-jawed sack of cynicism and self-loathing who hates their job and thus a large percentage of their existence.

    The economy of western Europe, therefore, is developing into one based entirely on producing reality TV shows and suing people for sharing them on the Internet. Hooray.

    • We have stopped making things, and now increased automation is rendering the service industry pointless. To be honest, like most of the public, I would rather deal with a machine than another human being, if only because that other human being is inevitably some slack-jawed sack of cynicism and self-loathing who hates their job and thus a large percentage of their existence.

      The economy of western Europe, therefore, is developing into one based entirely on producing reality TV shows and suing people for sharing them on the Internet. Hooray.

      well, at least the self-serve checkouts cant rebel, form a machine nation called "zero-one", then crush humanity and plug them into a power grid

    • by andersh (229403) *

      The economy of western Europe, therefore, is developing into one based entirely on producing reality TV shows and suing people for sharing them on the Internet. Hooray.

      That is utter rubbish! You might be damn near incompetent and incapable of working but the rest of us are not. From Nokia to Alcatel, Western Europe is full of innovative companies! We produce things in all industries from chemicals, electronics, software to space technology!

      • by damburger (981828)

        Wrong

        We don't produce any of those things; we produce the plans for such things. Physical manufacture is largely done elsewhere. Thus we are slaves to increasingly stifling IP legislation because our economy depends on such ethereal production.

        I was being flippant originally, but underneath that is a point: we are slowly moving from primarily adding value to the world economy to primarily rent seeking.

        • We don't produce any of those things; we produce the plans for such things. Physical manufacture is largely done elsewhere.

          Wrong yourself. You better tell my customers that they don't produce those products themselves right here in high-cost Northern Europe. You are making political "points" ignoring the truth or you are simply oblivious to it!

        • by andersh (229403) *

          In fact the trend has just started to change again, the transportation prices are rising making it increasingly profitable to produce closer to home.

          Just the other day I read an article from the UK about companies moving manufacturing home from China. And don't forget that the same thing is happening in the US [in some areas].

          And China is experiencing problems with higher labor costs following a real lack of available manpower. People in China are getting picky about what jobs they take and the wages they g

    • by dreamchaser (49529) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:51AM (#24643225) Homepage Journal

      I will start using self checkout when they start giving me a discount on my purchase for the money they save on a cashier. Until then I'll keep on using the cashier lines, that is while they still exist.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Abcd1234 (188840)

        And while you're lined up, waiting for some jackass to count out change while the cashier is scanning their dozen coupons, I'll already be out the door.

        But please, keep it up! The more people like you there are, the more likely it is the self-checkout will be open and available. :)

  • by PotatoFiend (1330299) on Monday August 18, 2008 @06:51AM (#24642965)

    My girlfriend unwittingly leaned across one of these scales to reach a bag of apples, whereupon the screen started showing pictures of different kinds of melons. Fairly accurate, I'd say.

    • Melons? (Score:5, Funny)

      by RudeIota (1131331) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:05AM (#24643023) Homepage

      My girlfriend unwittingly leaned across one of these scales to reach a bag of apples, whereupon the screen started showing pictures of different kinds of melons

      ... You never removed the bar code from your inflatable life partner? :\

    • My girlfriend unwittingly leaned across one of these scales to reach a bag of apples, whereupon the screen started showing pictures of different kinds of melons. Fairly accurate, I'd say.

      Its a bit like how spell checkers give computers a sense of humor. Optical processing and an obsession with fruit have given this checkout an obsession with round things.

    • Very nice fiction. You do know this is slashdot don't you? Girlfriends are a myth.
  • by Bazman (4849) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:07AM (#24643033) Journal

    My usual lunchtime shop has trouble reading BARCODES on half the stuff I buy. Swipe, nothing, swipe, nothing, swipe, nothing... Type in tiny number, beep. Yeah, that's time saving. And now I'm being told computers can tell the difference between tangerines and satsumas? Heck, I can't even do that!

    I call shenanigans. Either:

      * each vegetable has a secret RFID chip in it
    or
      * the picture is sent to some outsourced call centre where someone sits at a screen watching vegetables all day and clicking on what they are.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dw604 (900995)
      B might actually work
  • Refuse to use them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Monday August 18, 2008 @07:15AM (#24643063)

    I refuse to use self-service checkouts. They have installed two of them in the local Tesco (occupies the position that Wal-Mart does in the UK market).

    Every time I go in, a clipboard-wielding junior manager tries to make me use them. I usually just say "No", but next time I've resolved to explain why.

    Completely aside from the fact that the implementation is dreadful, the things are designed to do people out of a job, in a town that sorely needs jobs. Two of these things are typically supervised by one worker, instead of requiring two people to man two manual ones. You only spend on capital if you have an expectation of increased quality or reduced labour costs, and I can't see these things increasing quality.

    People who work grocery retail are at the bottom end of the labour market, so where are they going to go? I don't feel comfortable helping the the likes of Tesco line their pockets like this. I'm starting to feel close to the line where I stop shopping there (if only they hadn't managed to crowd out all the local greengrocers and fishmongers, which I suppose is partially my fault).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tim C (15259)

      Two of these things are typically supervised by one worker

      In the Tescos I use, it's generally more like 1 worker for 6 or 8 of these, and quite often there's no-one there at all (there is a button you can press to call for assistance).

      I refuse to use them too, for exactly the same reasons - they're taking jobs away from people who can probably work in very few other places. That probably makes me a Luddite; so be it. I'm not opposed to technology, but I am opposed to the relentless effort by most companies

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ...the things are designed to do people out of a job, in a town that sorely needs jobs.

      Since when do we owe these losers jobs? You should have seen the kids at my brother's old school. None of them gave a shit about their GCSEs, despite (because of?) the fact that they were going to be leaving school straight after them. They couldn't be arsed to work and seemed to think that the world owed them a living. I always wonder what percentage will grow up to look back on their GCSE exams and realise that they should have worked harder.

      Most of my friends on the other hand have worked their arses of

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by esme (17526)

      At least in the US, grocery checkout staff are far from the bottom of the labor market. I used to think it had to be the lowest job imaginable, but then there was a major strike of grocery workers in Southern California a few years ago. There was a lot of discussion in the newpapers about their wages, benefits, etc. and it turns out they make decent wages (1.5x to 2x minimum wage) and have good benefits -- they were mostly striking over the details of health insurance. So I was mystified why they were st

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hatta (162192)

      Completely aside from the fact that the implementation is dreadful, the things are designed to do people out of a job, in a town that sorely needs jobs.

      Yet another instance of the Broken Window Fallacy [freedomkeys.com]. Yes, increased efficiency may put these individuals out of a job. But it also means that the grocer saves money, and we do too. That money doesn't just disappear from the economy, we spend it on better things. Maybe we go out to eat more often, and maybe the owner of the grocery can afford to add on to h

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Completely aside from the fact that the implementation is dreadful, the things are designed to do people out of a job, in a town that sorely needs jobs.

      Agreed! That's why I refuse to use electric light bulbs. I mean, what are the lamplighters to do if there are no gas lamps to light? Huh?? They're just a way for the city to continue to take my taxes while putting people out of a job!

  • rather than smart computer.

    I'd rather have the scale suggest to me (and me confirming or choosing something else) the type of fruit/veg rather than telling me.

    As I can quite clearly envision the scenario where scale is wrong (tangerine, kumquat, etc.) and I have to track down some scarce-in-supply worker to actually override the scale (or just accept that it is wrong and deal with what ever that means in price).

    It is much more suited for computerised decision support than computerised recognition. It would

  • Or, they could just put a bar code on the fruit stickers... nah, that's too easy.

  • This is Slashdot. We don't care if the checkout line is sentient. What we really want to know is..
     
    Does it run Linux?

  • This is just another move towards getting rid of cashiers and making the customer check their own goods. This trend has been increasing in the last the year or two. Now there are more self serve checkouts at Home Depot, Lowe's, Sam's and other stores.

    Eventually they will have huge warehouses where the customers never see a live person that works there. Combined with ATMs and fast food drive up windows a person would not have to talk to anyone at all.

    Some how I don't think this is an improvement. H
  • Bad idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dpbsmith (263124) on Monday August 18, 2008 @10:42AM (#24645025) Homepage

    The problem with self-service scales in the supermarkets I've been to is not that it's hard to enter the item, it's that frequently _the item isn't in the database_. Or the PLU sticker is missing from the item or the shelf tag... and can't be looked up because it demands an exact name match and you don't know whether a sweet Vidalia onion begins with O or V or S.

    The premise that it can recognize produce visually is unlikely to say the least. Do you really think it can tell the difference between bananas at $0.69 a pound and organically grown bananas at $1.19 a pound? How about a Fuji apple and a Gala apple?

    I'm willing to bet that the system does more to impede legitimate purchases than to facilitate them.

    I'm bet that "ask[ing] the customer to choose between only those icons that are relevant" sounds like a smokescreen and a pretext. I'll be these scales really being sold to control-freak store managers who fear that customers are building a better retirement by ringing up expensive orange peppers as cheap green peppers, and is willing to spend $50,000 to prevent a couple of customers a day from bilking the store of $2.67.

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