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Amazon Go grocery store: No checkout lines, ‘just grab and go’

Jan 22, 20183 mins
Internet of ThingsMobileSmall and Medium Business

Amazon opened its first high-tech grocery store in Seattle. With no human or self-service checkouts, cameras and sensors track what you take off the shelves.

Would you walk into a grocery store, grab the items you need and then just walk out if it meant hundreds of small black cameras against a black ceiling had tracked exactly which items you picked up and automatically charged you for them?

Most brick-and-mortar stores use surveillance cameras. The difference with those stores, though, is you still have to stand in line to check out and pay for your items. Amazon is betting people will be all-too happy to trade checkout lines with being tracked by cameras as it opened Amazon Go, its automated grocery store in Seattle, to the public.

Amazon says its grocery store of the future has the “most advanced shopping technology. No lines, no checkout — just grab and go.”

How Amazon Go shopping works

To enter the 1,800-square foot Amazon Go grocery store, you must first scan a QR code in the Amazon Go app as you walk through an entry gate. From there on out, the store’s surveillance system tracks what you pick up. You don’t need a shopping cart, since you won’t be taking the items out to be scanned by a cashier. Instead, the items you grab automatically go into your virtual shopping cart as you put them in your shopping bag. You are automatically charged for the items when you walk out of the store.

That doesn’t mean there are no workers around. For example, there is a person near the alcohol to check age via IDs. Others are restocking the shelves or making salads and sandwiches in the kitchen.

The system has been called “very, very accurate.” It can determine which item you picked up even if it looks very similar to another item. If you pick up an item, it is automatically detected and goes into your virtual cart. If you return it to the shelf — even a different shelf than where you got it — it is removed from your virtual shopping basket.

It doesn’t use RFID chips or other tags on items; it also doesn’t use facial recognition. Instead all the tracking is done with hundreds of cameras attached to the ceiling and weight sensors in the shelves.

According to Amazon, “Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning.”

Amazon employees have been able to shop at the store since December 2016. It was expected to open up to the public in 2017, but Amazon hit speed bumps and had to iron out several kinks. For one, it had to work out how to handle it if two customers were dressed similarly or had similar body types. Reuters added, “When children were brought into the store during the trial, they caused havoc by moving items to incorrect places.”

Bloomberg previously reported that Amazon Go engineers had studied “families shopping together” and tweaked the sensors to recognize when a grabby “child eats an item while wandering around the store.”

As of right now, Amazon reportedly has no plans to introduce the checkout-less technology to its hundreds of Whole Food stores. It also hasn’t said if it will open more Amazon Go stores. Yet last October, Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, said, “You will see more expansion from us — it’s still early, so those plans will develop over time.”

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.