Snap’s New Tech Could Go After Pawn Shops

A filing from Snap for a computer vision appraiser may add to the company’s shopping ambitions.

Photo by Kajetan Sumila on Unsplash

Sign up to uncover the latest in emerging technology.

Snap is getting into antiquing. 

The social media giant filed a patent application for an “image based valuation system” that would allow users to get an estimate of an item’s worth, just by showing the system images of the item. 

Snap’s system relies on computer vision to identify items, detect their quality and assign value to them. So, a user could flash an item in front of the camera, specifically noting that it can be a collectible item, like a “trading card or comic book.” The system will classify the item by accessing a “a repository that corresponds with the object class,” though it doesn’t divulge too many details about where this repository is located and what items are in it. 

Finally, the system determines value using a “valuation scale” based on the item’s condition and attributes. For example, if you flash a rare Pokémon card in front of the camera, Snap’s system will be able to determine that it’s rare, and give the user a few potential selling prices based on its quality. 

Additionally, Snap’s system could be used to convert currency value. The filing notes that this system could use computer vision as a means of detecting a currency relative to the location that a user is in. For example, the filing notes, if you flash a US dollar in front of the camera, but you live in London, Snap will access a user’s profile history and location data to give the user the value of that dollar relative to the British pound. 

Photo via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Snap has been working hard on its shopping ambitions. In March, it debuted plans to launch AR Enterprise Services, a business unit focused entirely on helping retailers build AR shopping experiences into their own platforms. On its own platform, the company already offers a host of different AR try-on tools. 

The social media company has also sought to patent plenty of shopping and advertising-related tech, including a way to create a “customized personal store” with augmented reality and a system for “insight presentation,” which uses AR to give users a better understanding of their surroundings (likely including brands). While the tech in this patent doesn’t rely on AR as its inventions usually do, the filing could add to Snap’s continued interest in shopping technology, whether it’s used for its own platform or offered through AR Enterprise Services. 

Both shopping and enterprise services could represent a big boon for Snap, especially as the company struggles with gaining momentum in its digital ad sales. Snap reported a drop in earnings for the past two quarters, which the company blamed on limited ad demand and a “a period of rapid transition as we work to improve our advertising platform” in its late July earnings report. Whether or not computer vision appraisal tech is part of its enterprise pivot, finding ways to make money outside of advertising is likely of high priority. 

But one thing to consider: Plenty of companies are working on computer vision, with startups and big tech alike working on and filing patents for similar tech. Though this may signal a new revenue stream for the company, whether or not Snap can claim this tech as its own is unclear.