Piqabrick: Part identification system

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Wouldn't it be great if you could take a photo of an unknown LEGO piece, upload it somewhere and have it identified for you? That's exactly what Piqabrick, a project that's just launched on Kickstarter, sets out to deliver.

When I first read about it I was sceptical that such a thing could ever work but having read a bit more into it and seen what else the company behind it has done with its technology, I've changed my mind.


Essentially, Piqabrick consists of three parts:

  • A camera module with integrated lights, the 'Piqabrick top', that is designed to sit on top of a cube built from LEGO and plugged into a PC or Mac.
  • A website 'dashboard' through which you operate the camera and receive results
  • A database of LEGO parts images, upon which the system relies.

To use it, you put the part you want to identify under the camera, fire up the website and click a button to take a photo. The image is then sent to 'the cloud' where it'll be compared with those in the database and if there's a match you'll be shown the part number and links to BrickLink and so on.

The company behind the project, Getcoo, has already produced a similar system, Piqapart, for identifying screws and other industrial components so it should know what it's doing. I therefore think there's a good chance that it could actually work.

Of course, it will only be as good as the database of images and as I understand it that is being compiled at the moment by beta testers. In the long term it will effectively be crowd-sourced from the device's users, who will have the ability to add any new parts they encounter.

Anyway, you can show your support for the project on Kickstarter, where a pledge of €111 will get you a Piqabrick top when they ship in February. If the system turns out to be as good as it's claimed it will be, it will be a real time-saver for, for example, BrickLink sellers, so will pay for itself in no time.

There's more info in the press release:

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I am Stefano of GETCOO and I am happy to announce PIQABRICK, our made in Italy product that applies the computer vision technology to the world of LEGO, is on Kickstarter! Piqabrick is the new must-have for any AFOL (Adult Fan Of Lego) and Brick lover to instantly identify any brick code and manage the inventory.

PIQABRICK relies on DART (Direct Acquisition and ReTrieval), Getcoo’s proprietary Artificial Intelligence, already adopted in industry and tourism. PIQABRICK is made of two parts: the PIQABRICK BOX and the web dashboard. The first one consists of a USB camera and LED (to provide the correct illumination) mounted on top of a box made by LEGO bricks.

The box has precise dimensions (16x16 brick units wide and 12 brick units tall), but it is fully customizable by the user with his/hers own bricks (as long the internal dimension are kept, the color of the bricks does not matter). The PIQABRICK BOX is connected to a PC via USB and does not require any installation. To identify a brick, down to its ID and color code, just put it into the box!


The web dashboard controls the camera in the PIQABRICK BOX for the brick identification. Once the brick is identified the dashboard provides the links to the LEGO marketplaces to easily buy/sell the brick and to manage the personal inventory.

With PIQABRICK, Lego lovers can save time in the brick identification and the personal inventory management. The computer vision speeds up the buying/selling activity on the specialized marketplaces. With less time needed for searching, sorting and inventorying, more time to play, build, and have fun!

PIQABRICK:

  • identifies any brick down to the ID and color code
  • speeds up the identification with computer vision
  • identifies minifigs as well
  • suggests similar bricks (by code or color)
  • provides “appear in” functionality (list of sets in which a brick appears)
  • provides “rebrick” functionality (list of sets one can build with the bricks in his/her inventory)


More info:

64 comments on this article

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By in France,

Definitely a cool thing! Looking forward to see it in action!

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By in Canada,

Seems like it could be useful for Bricklink sellers. I'd love to see a review of this if it reaches it's funding goal!

I'm interested in seeing how it handles things like 1x2 jumper plates that, from the top, look identical but have had mould revisions that changed it's appearance from the underside. Also, there are a lot of stickers to catalogue from over the years, and I wonder how those would throw off identification.

I sort of hope they put the time and money into a smartphone app that did the same thing. Maybe they can revise the software they develop to do that in the future. Unless you're scanning in bulk, it'd be handy to have this functionality in your hands for one-off brick scans.

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By in United Kingdom,

^ I believe using a phone camera introduces too many variables to make it practical: lighting, distance from subject, camera quality etc. The camera top removes all of these.

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By in United Kingdom,

I will admit, the housing is great for removing some variables.
But I agree with theisteekay one off scans, this is a bit much. A phone app could do a fair few things.
The "distance from subject" can be handled by stud detection or other well known sized elements of the items.
It could at least fill in a few of the variables and ask you to confirm, and then start whittling them down to a few possibilities.
Exact colour would be interesting, and hard to get a super accurate guess on. And it could show these on screen for you to choose.
I would be happy with an inexpensive phone app that is 90% accurate than an expensive device that is 100% accurate.

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By in United Kingdom,

Someone would need to build a mindstorms mechanism to automatically put the pieces in the box and then sort them depending on what the software says.

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By in Netherlands,

It's an interesting technology, but how useful is it if it can only identify one piece at a time?

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By in United Kingdom,

I'd question though how often you'd actually use this? I'm guessing most MOC builders keep their parts well organised enough to not need to identify what a part is, and most casual builders will have zero need for such a thing as they're not going to be buying extra parts.

Honestly, as pointed out already, an app could do the exact same thing.

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By in Australia,

I like the idea, but there might be better ways to figure this out. And besides, MOC builders usually sort them by piece and colour, so what’s the need?

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By in United Kingdom,

I wouldn't pay that much, when most BL sellers can identify most parts quickly anyway. Also it is not obvious, can it identify printed and stickered parts? Not minifigure parts, but normal parts. Those are often the ones that cause problems, especially if the sticker is put on the wrong part or in the wrong place.

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By in United Kingdom,

I think it's cool. I would want one, as I do not know what spare parts I have picked up over the years, what are rare, what are not. It would also help me list things, should I decide to sell. I see many people talking about colors on here, ad what Lego/you call blue, is grey to me etc etc.

Pricing is a little steep, but if it works, and also can help identify MFs (I have an abundance of legs, heads and torsos Id like to match) then this would be great

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By in Australia,

@WackyWookiee : the "need" could be for people trying to identify jumbled up sets they have acquired or recompile sets from loose pieces. But I put "need" in quotes because there are other (less elegant) ways to do those things. Still it's very imaginative

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By in Italy,

I'm Stefano, one of the creator of Piqabrick, and I want to share some thoughts about the smartphone app.
we did several tests with a prototype of a smartphone app and we ran into two main problems:
1) light conditions: even if you create with LEGO a box with an holder for the smartphone, the light cannot be the same in every configuration, producing different shadows and strange reflections.
2) Sensors, this is a huge problem, there are a lot of smartphones with different camera sensors producing very different images with the same condition.

A smartphone app is enough to make a categorizer and tell you "Maybe this is a 1x1 brick white or grey ... or maybe not", that's far far away from 90% of accuracy, so we decided that Piqabrick would not be just a categorizer but a real LEGO identifier, able to tell you if a brick is grey or light grey, able to tell you which version of C3-PO minifig is with high precision and in one second.
For this reason one of the strength of Piqabrick is the fast identification of minifig, printed and stickered parts.

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By in United Kingdom,

It sounds very Niche, but looks very impressive, expensive but impressive. I hope it works and sells I just can't see the need for most people. I assume most AFOLS buy a set, build a set, display a set, neatly store a set. Its only for bulk blind buys, or storage disasters. Anyway......Good luck.

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By in Italy,

@benredstar you would need dozen of thousands of boxes...

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By in United States,

I wonder if it works with minifigs...

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By in United Kingdom,

^ If you read the article before commenting you'd know :)

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By in United States,

I've wondered for a long time if something like this is feasible. I'm glad to see that it is.

I don't really have a need for it. I've been building for most of my life, so I almost always know what a piece is. Still could be helpful for others though.

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By in Slovakia,

Don't see a lot of use for this. Maybe for some sellers. If you are buying parts you don't need to use this for identification as you don't have your parts yet, if you have already some sets then each sets have part list in instructions as well.

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By in United States,

Once the database is built, I wonder if the new data (which would include pictures of the parts) could be used on brickset.com to fill in the parts that aren't currently listed.

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By in Germany,

I wonder how would this system for with elements that look the same from above, like a 2x1 plate and a 2x1 brick. Since it only has one camera, it either can't or is using the size of the picture to gauge the distance from the sensor.

And in seconding the notion that while this is a really neat solution, it still suffered from the problem associated with scales and markets: anybody who would spend this much on it either already knows which brick is which, or would need to sort dozens of kgs of mixed Lego.

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By in United States,

I'm in for one, hope it lives up to the promise. It will be really nice to be able to finally get the minifigures from all my bulk lots sorted. Should be very useful for those of us who buy lots of used Lego from thrift stores.

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By in United States,

I think a lot of people are overlooking the time saving feature here; of looking up part 's (yes we know slopes from curved slopes but repeatedly looking up part 's is daunting) and them having them instantly transferred to a database, such as Bricklink (for selling) or Brickset (to record your collection) is immensely faster and more convenient than the traditional method. Is it that convenience worth the buy in price? I would take the plunge if I ever committed to opening a Bricklink store (and maybe selling back some of those really cool parts I've acquired from Bricklink over the years but never get around to using).

Ps. Did anyone else see this article and think it was months late on an April Fool's Day joke? Did LEGO or some fan website post a similar invention as a joke? Is my loosely connected string of memories I call a consciousness short circuiting again? Ok, I'll stop.

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By in United Kingdom,

Certainly a cool piece of kit. I don't have any use for it but I'm not a BL seller.

Could an alternative solution be to photograph the piece upside down and read the number on it instead?

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By in United States,

That's insane. I'd be all over it if I actually needed one LOL.

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By in United Kingdom,

^^ Most BL sellers can probably identify most parts faster than this machine though, by the time you take to position the item correctly in the box, take the photo, and so on. Of course there will always be obscure prints that take longer to find, but then there will be many parts that are faster to identify.

You'll need to use it a lot for it to be worthwhile, especially if you are on the subscription model.

Presumably, they will also have to have permission to use Bricklink's numbering system for minifigures, minifigure parts, part prints, etc as this is not LEGO's information but BL's own numbering system. The same for the set inventories and so on that this software will use. Where will those be sourced from, as again permission might be needed to use those for commercial applications, depending on where they are extracted from.

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By in United Kingdom,

@Stefano_Berti : Just how does it differ from a smartphone in lighting conditions etc though? So its a camera rig with built in lights and a enclosure box. Surely using it in a darkened room is going to have different effects from using it in full sunshine if lights so variable by your own claims and your going to have the same 'strange shadows and reflections' effect?

And why can't you adjust the app for different cameras, or make it so that the user can do such a thing with a settings menu?

Also, given you only have the single above the piece shot with your camera placement, why isn't yours just a categorizer? Surely with only the single angle your product too would only be able to do the vauge 'its a '2x4 brick'. And as mentioned, if the sticker isn't on the right part, how can it identify it correctly?

I'll also note, anyone who can't tell the versions of C-3PO apart just by looking at them, really needs to go get their eyes checked.

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By in Germany,

To me this sounds really useful. I am actually thinking I might support this.

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By in United Kingdom,

@ccc, there is no subscription model any more, it's been shelved, apparently.

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By in Italy,

@ccc CONFIRMED! There is no subscription. Once you'll get the box, Piqabrick is perpetually free

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By in United States,

How is it with retired colors? Can it identify the difference between 22 Medium Reddish Violet and 221 Bright Purple?

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By in Italy,

LAST NEWS:
LAST NEWS:
Abbiamo organizzato Piqabrick per la comunità AFOLs.

Questo è il motivo per cui abbiamo deciso di coinvolgere tutti voi nel nostro progetto sin organizzato. In questi mesi abbiamo ascoltato i tuoi suggerimenti e feedback e negli ultimi giorni l'hai detto chiaramente: non ti piace l'abbonamento.

Allo stesso tempo, crediamo davvero nel nostro progetto e vogliamo davvero investire in esso. Fino in fondo. Quindi è tempo di dare il tuo consiglio, ed è questo il punto ...

Piqabrick sarà ABBONATO GRATUITAMENTE, ora e per sempre!

Presto aggiorneremo tutte le informazioni, le FAQ e anche la campagna Kickstarter.

Fornire affermazione con assoluta certezza che la rimozione dell'abbonamento non implica alcun cambiamento nelle funzionalità di Piqabrick. In effetti, copriremo personalmente i costi operativi della piattaforma, con la certezza del numero di scatole che potremmo vendere anno per anno per rimborsare il nostro investimento.

Grazie ancora per il tuo supporto: il tuo aiuto è così prezioso per noi.

Ora, continua a sostenere Piqabrick per realizzare il nostro (e il tuo, ovviamente) sogno!
--

LAST NEWS:
We have organized Piqabrick for the AFOLs community.

This is why we have decided to involve all of you in our organized project. In recent months we have listened to your suggestions and feedback and in the last few days you have clearly said: you don't like the subscription.

At the same time, we really believe in our project and we really want to invest in it. Until the end. So it's time to give your advice, and that's the point ...

Piqabrick will be SUBSCRIBED FOR FREE, now and forever!

Soon we will update all information, FAQs and even the Kickstarter campaign.

Provide assurance with absolute certainty that the removal of the subscription does not imply any change in the functionality of Piqabrick. In fact, we will personally cover the operating costs of the platform, with the certainty of the number of boxes we could sell each year to repay our investment.

Thank you again for your support: your help is so precious to us.

Now, continue to support Piqabrick to make our (and yours, of course) dream come true!

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By in United States,

I feel like this is the 1.0 and the 2.0 will be just a phone app--not to disparage it, this is really cool, but like so many things that start off as a dedicated gadget (phone, GPS, camera, music player, etc...) a smart phone has, in theory, everything you'd need. It's only a matter of programming to make up for the limitations of natural light. I believe with white balance detection, you could even account for color assumin the light is close enough to white.

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By in Italy,

@GrizBe. The box provides pretty uniform lighting conditions even if you put it in a dark room or in the sunshine. Certainly enough uniform for our computer vision technology. We are able to compensate for this kind of variables.
An app for all the different smartphones, cameras, sensors, ... is not doable. It would require so many different software configurations that would make the development not sustainable. Letting the user adjust by himself/herself the settings would even complicate the whole thing. AI-based computer vision is very different from our eye perception.
Nobody can do miracles, neither do we. And since Piqabrick is not an X-rays machine we cannot identify the print if you place it facing downward. However, Piqabrick identifies the brick (not with a vague brick) but with a list of possible matches---with ID and color code---sorted by percentage. You will certainly spot the right printed brick in it.
Maybe we do not have to check our eyes but we find easier use Piqabrick rather than remember brick codes (they are thousands, as you know), search on google, or scroll big tables ;)
Have a great day and spread the word to help us reach the goal!

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By in United Kingdom,

Think I'll just stick to taking pictures and asking people on facebook, for the occasional time i need to identify something :)

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By in Netherlands,

First thing that came to mind when I saw the title, was “april fools”. Sorry, I guess :/

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By in United Kingdom,

So if there is no subscription, what about longer term support?

Once you have sold the initial batch of units will there be any development of software, updates, etc. if future purchase of units slows down?

Will the software be usable even if you don't have a top box but supply a photo some other way?

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By in Italy,

@wsmit99: Yes! That was a Lego's april fools.. but funny thing was that we were actually working on it!! Can you imagine how we felt? First reaction was: noooooooo!!!! and then, ...OK it's April 1st... :D
If you like Piqabrick spread the voice and help us reach the goal!

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By in Italy,

@CCC: THANK YOU for your question. Piqabrick featured an annual subscription to assure anyone we would be able to support it on the long term. We asked for a very low, subscription, but it was not well received by the community. We designed Piqabrick for AFOLs community, so brick lovers always come first. So we took their advice and we made Piqabrick SUBSCRIPTION FREE, now and forever!
Even if this decision messed up things a little bit, we really believe in our project and we truly want to invest in it. All the way. We can say with absolute certainty that the removal of the subscription won’t imply any change in Piqabrick features. In fact, we’ll personally cover platform operational costs, being confident about the number of boxes we could sell year by year to pay back our investment.
Thanks again to let me clarify this point and let's support Piqabrick to make our (and your, of course) dream come true!

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By in United States,

I need to check this out.

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By in Norway,

It's definitely an interesting concept (even if I can't see myself buying one), especially for Bricklink sellers and those who often buys unsorted bulk lots. It would be particularly useful for printed parts (like minifig ones), as these are poorly organized on sites like Bricklink and can be a real pain to identify if you have no clue what set it's from. It would also be nice if it could identify small/incomplete sub-assemblies (like half a car, brick-built furniture and advent calendar models) as that could yield valuable clues about what sets are included in an unsorted lot. Does the software have any kind of "AI" regarding this - like if you've spotted a part that's only used in a few sets, will it look for more parts from these sets?

What it really needs is some way of communicating with Mindstorms - despite the massive challenges, people WILL try to build conveyors and other mechanisms to automate the identification process. That way they'll take their newly acquired bulk lot, roughly sort it by size (and ID'ing the larger bits individually), before pouring the rest into a hopper and letting the system run overnight. As such it needs to be able to send some simple messages, like "Ready for next part", "This is an X" (adding it to a list while leaving it to the Mindstorms program as to where that should be placed), "Could not identify, try flipping it over" and so on.

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By in Switzerland,

This would really only be useful for distinguishing different versions of one part. Most parts have their unique number somewhere and the rest can easily be identified either via the parts list or directly on Bricklink.

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By in United Kingdom,

I’m pretty good at part ID, but minifig torsos are my kryptonite!! The taxonomy (new word I learnt at work) that BL uses on torso description is far from consistent so this could be a god send......

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By in United States,

In my advanced age, I can't read the part numbers on bricks as easily as I used to so something like this would be great to quickly get part numbers when I want to order more. However, this doesn't come up often enough for me that I'd want a special purpose gadget hanging around just for that. I agree with others, a smart phone app would be better.

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By in Italy,

@axeleng I am so glad you spotted many of use cases of Piqabrick! I am sure you'll love it!
Regarding your question: "Does the software have any kind of "AI" regarding this - like if you've spotted a part that's only used in a few sets, will it look for more parts from these sets?"
Piqabrick comes with an "appear in" feature that will tell you any set a given brick belongs to. It can also tell you which sets you can build with the bricks already in your inventory. We always listen to our community needs, so if the feature you desire meets the needs of the community, we will add it for sure!
About the second part of your message, your suggestions are just great! An automated sorting machine is already in the roadmap but we have to define how to do it, and it's this kind of suggestions that we need!
However, we have to learn walk before we can run... :) let's start with the Box and then move forward! Support our project and help us reach the goal and spread the word!!
Thanks!

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By in Italy,

@Mickitat maybe, but you can save a lot of time with Piqabrick! You can directly jumo into the right bricklink page, or easily manage your inventory. Less time to sort and identify, more time to play!

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By in Italy,

@Slave2lego So happy you like Piqabrick! Help us reaching the goal and spread the voice!!

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By in Italy,

@stupibea_yahoo_com I am sure you'll love Piqabrick. A smartpone app would not work that well however. BTW, the box is studied to fit in your creations! ;)

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By in Denmark,

I would like an app
That is not possible
I would like an app
That is not possible
I would like an app
...
Brickset users in a nutshell

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By in Italy,

@iriz, :D
As I said in pevious comments, the Piqabrickers' community come first. So we added the app in the roadmap. We hope that at some point we will deliver such a desired tool.

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By in United Kingdom,

Interesting concept and testimony to the technology which, just a few years ago, was not available to make this possible.

That said, and as @ecleme11 points out above, you can just ask the AFOL community online. Eurobricks has a dedicated parts identification thread. I wonder which is faster and more accurate, Piqabrick or the online AFOL community.

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By in Germany,

@ecleme11 @Zander And if course there is bricks.stackexchange.com as well for the eternal "Could you please identify this brick?" questions.

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By in Italy,

@SirZed @ecleme11 @Zander
Exactly! Just a few years ago the technology was not ready.. but now it is!
A Piqabrick vs AFOL community identification challenge would be interesting... we bet on us! :)
Please help us spread the word about the Kickstarter campaign! Thank you!

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By in United States,

@Zander my bet would be on the parts identification thread on the Brickset forums. I've don't recall any parts going unidentified, and sometimes even non-Lego parts are identified there. But I'm in for the Piqabrick module anyway, because I have hundreds of minifigures to get sorted through, and because this could lead to even more advanced tools in the future.

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By in Latvia,

I hope this works! It's a really cool idea

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By in United Kingdom,

@Stefano_Berti First of all this looks great and shows plenty of promise. If it is as good as you say it is then it could be a huge time saver. I have a question though. Does the dashboard only provide you a link to other marketplaces or does it also allow you to create a list of inventory parts and export this to other applications such as BrickStock via XML, BSX, etc? If one target user is Bricklink sellers then some compatibility with BrickStock will be a key feature. Another thought is this....it also functions as an excellent light box for taking very well lit photos of parts, particularly minifigs. Is there the ability within the dashboard to save and use the photos it captures? For instance if I wish to use the photo of a damaged minifigure as part of my listing in my store? I assume ownership of the photos remains with me? Many thanks.

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By in Italy,

@marco_technico thanks for the questions, we designed Piqabrick platform interoperability with other platform through:
1) Links > for direct access items in marketplaces
2) API > with platforms that offer this possibility (BrickSet, Bricklink, Rebrickable, ..)
3) File Export > csv, xml...
We filled our roadmap with all these features and we are defining with our beta tester the priority and how to implement it and.
I think the "take picture and save it into your computer" feature is a great on, good suggestion, I'll put it into the to-do list.
If you have other suggestions, please join our Piqabrickers group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/piqabrickers/

Thanks!!

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By in Italy,

Hi to all!
I am one of the 10 beta testers who, in the coming days, will be able to play with PIQABRICK.
For the moment, I have unboxed the product which, I remind you, is still a prototype.
If you want to see the images, you can find them on the ItLUG - Italian LEGO Users Group forum.
@huw , you will have the chance to see it live next week, in Florence.

Link to unboxing:
http://itlug.org/forum/topic/9211-piqabrick-piattaforma-per-il-riconoscimento-ottico-di-elementi-lego/?do=findComment&comment=80018

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By in Netherlands,

Can this also scan stickers on top of Lego?

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By in Italy,

@jerone yes, absolutely, Piqabrick works also with printed and stickered bricks

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By in United States,

@Stefano_Berti

How does it work with cloth pieces like capes? And how does it work with stickers?

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By in Italy,

@Legodud9898
Piqabrick works with clothes and stickers in the same way as for bricks.
The identification process is made by our proprietary AI computer vision technology named DART.
DART has two main advantegs with respect to the other computer vision solutions:

1) Fast training: the training phase is extremely fast (after a new brick is added to the DB, is avaiable for the identification after 1 minute) and flexible (A few images per brick are enough compared to the hundreds or thousands of the other systems)

2) Accuracy: DART identifies the specific items, not just the category, this allows us to manage very big database of references like LEGO's

You can find more information about our technology here:
https://www.getcoo.com/en

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By in Italy,

Got my full support, Stefano. Great project.

Daje!

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