Amazon on Monday unveiled Amazon Go, a new brick-and-mortar concept store that replaces cashiers and checkout lines with computer vision and artificial intelligence.
In a video describing the project, Amazon said Amazon Go relies on technology similar to that of a self-driving car: computer vision, deep-learning algorithms, and sensor fusion. To make the technology more palatable for non-technical folk, Amazon is calling this particular feature set "Just Walk Out" technology.
In a nutshell, Amazon Go works in conjunction with a mobile app. The shopper must activate the app and scan it on a sort of high-tech turnstile upon entering. From there, it's pretty much free range. Shoppers pick up what they want, and the Just Walk Out technology adds the item to their virtual cart. When the shopper leaves, the technology adds up the total in the virtual cart, charges it to their Amazon account, and sends a receipt to the app.
According to Amazon, the store has been in the works for four years.
"What if we could weave the most advanced machine learning, computer vision and AI into the very fabric of a store, so you never have to wait in line. No lines, no checkout, no registers -- welcome to Amazon Go," states the Amazon video.
Despite the efforts of a handful of companies, grocery is still one of the last major product categories to develop a firm digital identity. There are online-only supermarkets such as British retailer Ocado, and in the US, there are giants like Kroger, Walmart, and Publix, which are experimenting with a combination of online and offline features aimed at easing some of the key burdens associated with grocery shopping.
Amazon has also tried to tackle the grocery challenge, with the rollout of its grocery deliver service AmazonFresh, as well as a rumored drive-in location, where online grocery orders could be picked up.
But what Amazon is trying to do with Amazon Go is combine the convenience of in-store grocery shopping (i.e. having food immediately available) with the speed and seamlessness of online shopping. Long checkout lines have always been irksome, and heckling self-checkout kiosks are only a mild improvement. If Amazon manages to alleviate those pain points in a store format that's reliable and replicable, Amazon Go could turn out to be grocery's game changer.
The 1,800 square-foot Amazon Go store is currently in beta in Amazon's hometown of Seattle. For now it's only open to Amazon employees, but it is expected to open up to the public in early 2017.