Ama­zon Go

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What is it?

Ama­zon Go ( bit.ly/ama­zongo423) is a real-life gro­cery store that al­lows you to walk in, take any item you want from the shelves and then leave with­out pass­ing through a check­out. It sounds wor­ry­ingly akin to shoplift­ing, but the idea is that you pay for your goods via an app on your phone. This speeds up the shop­ping process by elim­i­nat­ing queues and free­ing you from the usual faff of plac­ing your goods into a bas­ket, tak­ing them out again to be scanned and repack­ing them into shop­ping bags.

What does Ama­zon Go sell?

Any­thing from sta­ples such as bread, milk and cheese to drinks, easy-to-pre­pare meals and treats such as pas­tries and choco­lates. The first Go store in Seat­tle has been trad­ing solely to Ama­zon em­ploy­ees since De­cem­ber, with items stocked in a 1,800ft2 (167m2) space. But it’s still in a beta-test­ing phase and the pub­lic open­ing – orig­i­nally pen­cilled in for the end of March – has been de­layed.

Why does Ama­zon want a slice of the gro­cery mar­ket?

An­a­lysts are un­sure why Ama­zon wants to en­ter an in­dus­try in which many es­tab­lished com­pa­nies are mak­ing a loss. They are just as baf­fled about why it wants a bricks-and-mor­tar pres­ence when it has spent years un­der­min­ing the high street with its suc­cess­ful on­line busi­ness. Yet the ex­pan­sion of its brand and de­sire to reach into all as­pects of our spend­ing is hard for Ama­zon to re­sist.

How does Ama­zon Go work?

As a cus­tomer, the first thing you need to do is in­stall the free Ama­zon Go app, which is linked with your Ama­zon ac­count. As you walk into the store, you’ll be asked to open the app to call up a QR code and hold your phone next to a scan­ning de­vice. This tells Ama­zon that you are in the shop and ready to browse the aisles. You can then grab items and carry them or place them in your own bag. Ama­zon works out what you’ve taken and adds it to your vir­tual shop­ping bas­ket. Once you’ve walked out of the store, it will cre­ate the over­all bill, debit your ac­count and send you a re­ceipt.

What’s the tech­nol­ogy be­hind it?

Ama­zon hasn’t di­vulged the ex­act de­tails of how it works out what you’re buy­ing. It does, how­ever, say it uses a com­bi­na­tion of ad­vanced ma­chine learn­ing, com­puter vi­sion and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, sim­i­lar to the tech found in self-driv­ing cars. As such, ex­perts sug­gest Ama­zon’s com­put­ers are hooked up to a se­ries of cam­eras around the store. These make a note of two things in par­tic­u­lar: the items be­ing taken off the shelves and the per­son do­ing the tak­ing. This is a com­pli­cated process since the sys­tem needs to dis­tin­guish be­tween a cheap bot­tle of wa­ter and an ex­pen­sive bot­tle of Cham­pagne, for ex­am­ple. But that’s where AI and deep learn­ing come into play, look­ing for par­tic­u­lar im­age fea­tures and cor­rect­ing er­rors so that the right items at the cor­rect prices are added to your bill.

Scan as you shop

Some Tesco su­per­mar­kets of­fer a por­ta­ble scan­ner that you use to scan bar­codes of items as you shop. You can then head to the till, pay, pack your shop­ping and leave.

Us­ing your mo­bile

A com­pany called Diebold Nix­dorf, which pro­vides self-ser­vice prod­ucts to re­tail­ers, is look­ing at ways for cus­tomers to use their phones to scan items as they shop. Sains­bury’s has tri­alled a sim­i­lar sys­tem called Mo­bile Scan & Go.

Pay a vir­tual waiter

When you get your restau­rant bill, you can pay with­out flag­ging down a waiter. Apps such as Fly­pay and Cake let you pay on your phone, while restau­rants in­clud­ing Pizza Ex­press have bill-set­tling fea­tures in their apps.

You can buy all man­ner of ex­cit­ing items with Ama­zon Go, such as salad

This cus­tomer has clearly nailed how to use the Ama­zon Go app

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