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Amazon Opens 'Surveillance-Powered, No-Checkout Convenience Store' (geekwire.com) 266

An anonymous reader quotes GeekWire: The first Amazon Go grocery and convenience store will open to the public Monday in Seattle -- letting any person with an Amazon account, the Amazon Go app and a willingness to give up more of their personal privacy than usual simply grab anything they want and walk out, without going through a checkout line... After shoppers check in by scanning their unique QR code, overhead cameras work with weight sensors in the shelves to precisely track which items they pick up and take with them. When they leave, they just leave. Amazon Go's systems automatically debit their accounts for the items they take, sending the receipt to the app. In my first test of Amazon Go this past week, my elapsed time in the store was exactly 23 seconds -- from scanning the QR code at the entrance to exiting with my chosen item...

The company says the tracking is precise enough to distinguish between multiple people standing side-by-side at a shelf, detecting which one picked up a yogurt or cupcake, for example, and which one was merely browsing. The system also knows when people pick up items and put them back, ensuring that Amazon doesn't dock anyone's account for milk or chips when they simply wanted to read the label. The idea is to "push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning" to create an "effortless experience for customers," said Dilip Kumar, Amazon Go vice president of technology, after taking GeekWire through the store this past week... Apart from the kitchen staff preparing fresh food at the back, we saw only two workers in the 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store during our visit: one at the beer and wine section to check IDs, and another just inside the entrance to greet customers.

TechCrunch calls it "Amazon's surveillance-powered no-checkout convenience store," adding "the system is made up of dozens and dozens of camera units mounted to the ceiling, covering and recovering every square inch of the store from multiple angles."

The Seattle Times reports that the store "was also criticized by grocery-store workers' unions, which feared an effort to automate the work done by cashiers, the second-most-common job in the U.S."
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Amazon Opens 'Surveillance-Powered, No-Checkout Convenience Store'

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  • like self check out just wait people will try to work out ways to get free stuff at this store.

    https://www.fierceretail.com/o... [fierceretail.com]

  • The political economy is broken: innovation that delivers broad productivity and standard-of-living increases is "bad" because it puts people out of work. This phenomenon is not new. For example, some metro transit systems rolled out in the 70's were designed for total automation, but were forced to employ operators by unions and/or public outcry.

    There are two simple, direct fixes that should be on the table. One is a basic income, the other a jobs guarantee.

    • I think it has come to that. You can't have an economy based on consumption when no one can afford to buy because they don't have jobs to earn the money that it takes to consume.
      • You can't have an economy based on consumption when no one can afford to buy because they don't have jobs to earn the money that it takes to consume.

        Exactly. Also, both basic income and jobs guarantee could virtually eliminate a host of other social ills, like homelessness and food insecurity. Those things directly make all of our lives worse, e.g. by forcing us to walk through feces encrusted encampments and increasing the incidence of property crimes.

        Further, unlike top-heavy tax cuts, bottom-heavy cash transfers for folks with marginal propensity to consume near 1 will drive growth and thereby limit their impact on net government revenue.

  • Nice challenge! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DrTJ ( 4014489 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @03:59PM (#55973629)

    From the TFA:
    "The company says the tracking is precise enough to distinguish between multiple people standing side-by-side at a shelf, detecting which one picked up a yogurt or cupcake, for example, and which one was merely browsing. "

    I would take that as a challenge! What can I get a away with, how can I obscure, or fool the "AI", what are the limitations and assumptions, can I beat the design engineers? Very interesting problem!

    If I would be tempted to do that - who hasn't shoplifted once in 47 years - what would that indicate for the average shoplifting rate?

    • They will accept your challenge. Though you only actually left wth 5 items the AI will be tied in knots by so many kids and it will charge you for half the store. Mysteriously if it is a grey area somehow the customer gets the short end 99% of the time. But since they have hundreds of cameras, thousands of scales, and millions of rfid tags, but you have your word it's probably somewhat over 100%.
    • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @04:46PM (#55973897)
      will dwarf anything you could possibly steal before getting caught. As for privacy concerns, it's like the number of the beast. You won't have a choice. You'll at least have to buy food.
      • If people really care about privacy and there's no other stores available to shop at, they can always pay someone else to do their shopping for them. One person buys everything for a dozen people or so which makes the collected data useless since it can't be tied to any one person in particular.
        • Meeting in the marketing department:

          The last time alvinrod was in the store, he bought a chicken and tofurky slices, unsalted chips and 500g of sea salt, non-alcoholic beer and two bottles of wines, vanilla ice cream and coconut milk frozen dessert...

          • by mentil ( 1748130 )

            One of his two personalities is a vegan health nut. Problem solved. Wait, would the health nut buy the wine or the non-alcoholic beer?!

      • Choice and monopolism are water and oil.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Probably doesn't need to be super accurate, beyond not accidently charging people for stuff. Like self service check outs the losses may be a little higher but the savings compared to employing staff more than make up for them.

    • The hard part isn't just fooling the AI, it is doing it in a way that doesn't cause the AI to detect that your signal is problematic and flag you for human analysis. The human can watch you for a bit and easily see you're playing some sort of "game" and ban you, even if they can't figure out your scam. This is going to be so much harder than doing the same thing in a store right now, with only humans to fool, and where they don't have all the shoppers authenticated and so have to catch thieves "live."

      • Re:Nice challenge! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @05:17PM (#55974087)
        Assuming no human employees and current fire codes -- wear mask, walk in though exit, grab stuff, walk out through fire exit. Slashdotters are thinking of security in a far more sophisticated way than petty thieves do.
        • They do that at night with the liquor store and smashing the window in, but then they get caught and insurance pays for most of the damage.

          This part is neither new, nor theoretical. There are places in the world where it is a real problem, and in the US it is mostly not. It happens, but there is a system in place to mitigate it.

        • But.... you can't enter through an exit!?

          I mean... that's like... you can't even... diodes, man! Diodes!

        • by mentil ( 1748130 )

          Modern retail fire exits are one-way. Locked from the outside, push a handle to open it from the inside. Sure, a friend could open the door for you... but that person would then be on camera doing so (and an alarm goes off so everyone stares at you like WTF you doing?)

    • Tolerable Shoplifting Rate - TSLR

    • Last time I was in Switzerland there was a small convenience store run on the honor system. No staff, no cameras, just a lock box you dropped cash in when you bought something. They were still in business.

      People rarely run out on restaurant bills even though its easy to do. Its quite possible that a lot of people understand that stealing stuff is bad.

    • Take it as a challenge? Amazon will thank you for providing edge cases to help harden their AI. I'm sure they expect to lose money on this approach for a few years while they gather extensive real world field testing. You're the product...

  • ATM scare (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    A couple decades ago when I was in middle school banks in our town installed a few ATMs and issued mag stripe cards to replace the paper wallet size account number slips. My dad and many others around me said it would be the end of banking as a profession and I should not go anywhere near the industry.

    That end of employment fear was unfounded as is this one.

    • by rl117 ( 110595 )
      Have you seen how many bank branches have closed down entirely? In Scotland, the RBS have closed something like two thirds of their branches over the last couple of years, and the other banks are doing the same. On the street I work on, I've seen Clydesdale, RBS and Lloyds all vanish over the last year or so. With ATMs and online banking, their reason to exist is mostly gone. If I need to cash a cheque I need to travel to the one remaining branch in the city centre. Employment in banks was a dead end t
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        Have you seen how many bank branches have closed down entirely? (...) Sucks to be a business with nowhere to deposit your takings.

        That's been taken over by machines too, both notes [federalbank.co.in] and coins [cashyourcoin.com]. Those who have a big cash surplus tend to have a security company drive around and collect it rather than carry large amounts of cash to the bank though. Though most businesses around here actually hand out more money than they take in, people get money by electronic deposit and those who let you pay by debit card also tend to let you do small cash withdrawals.

  • I bought some things recently using a similar idea. At a Dallas hospital the vending machines have been replaced by what roughly like standard refrigerated display cases you'd see holding drinks at any convenience store. Chips and such were in a similar-looking case, just not refrigerated.

    The customer taps their card or phone to open the case, then takes whatever they want. It detects if you take an item and then put it back. Especially if you wanted more than one item, it was more convenient than a stand

    • hoping the bag of pretzels will drop as intended

      It's the 21st century, we're sending robots to Mars and probes to asteroids, cancer has gone from "death sentence" to "usually well treatable", and paper jams in printers have become exceedingly rare, but the solution to this problem still eludes us.

  • as so often happens, I pick something up, walk around for a while, then put it down somewhere else, picking something up from there? If their system can't handle that - with 100% reliability - it's not ready for the real world. Because that happens all the time in real retail stores.

    • by WrongMonkey ( 1027334 ) on Sunday January 21, 2018 @04:45PM (#55973891)
      If you don't put the item back the original spot, you should be charged anyway just for being an inconsiderate jerk.
    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      Please don't do that. It takes several man-hours each day in a large retail store to find, collect, and put back all the items that are left in wrong spots by customers. Time that'd be better spent cleaning up the store or stocking that thing you're out of and need and it's not on the shelf but somewhere in the backroom and NO we can't find it for you in the stack of 1,000 vaguely labeled boxes.
      Hand the item to the cashier so they can have it put back right away (if it's refrigerated/frozen) or collected in

  • ... the tracking is precise enough to distinguish between multiple people ... overhead cameras work with weight sensors in the shelves to precisely track which items they pick up ... The system also knows when people pick up items and put them back, ...

    Do not shop for condoms at the Amazon Go store.

    On the other hand... With Alexa snooping on you at home as well, perhaps she can help ensure you buy the right size - next time.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 )

      There next to no size difference between over-the-counter condoms in the US, despite what the packaging promises. An "XL" condom is only 56mm wide compared to 53mm for the regular.
      The manufacturers can't deviate much from the allowed standards, or they won't be allowed OTC status. The only reason there is a difference at all is because the production tolerances are now smaller so they can make a condom that's 56 +- 1mm where they earlier made 53 +- 4mm, and still stay within the 57 mm max width. Similar

  • > criticized by grocery-store workers' unions, which feared an effort to automate the work done by cashiers, the second-most-common job in the U.S.

    This is an excellent example of where the "robots are taking our jobs" mantra is misguided and targeted at the wrong change. If the concern is really about cashiers' work, then the most significant replacement has already been implemented many years ago: self-checkout kiosks. In fact, the ones in the US have already become old fashioned and bulky compared to t

  • The only thing that bothers me about this is the personal identification in order to enter the store. Then again, stores like Costco have for years required you to submit your identity and made you pay for a uniquely-identifying card in order to use their store. It doesn't look like Amazon will charge you. And even I am willing to let a clerk scan my uniquely-identifying Safeway card at checkout so I can get 80 cents off seedless grapes or whatever. What's different about Amazon's store is that there isn't
    • Prepaid credit card linked to an Amazon account with following address and info... Fuck Bezos 666 Diaf Lane Hell, MI 45666 (616)FUC-KOFF fbezos@goatse.cn
    • When my grocery store added self-checkout kiosks, they fired so many people that lines are even longer now.

  • The idea is to "push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning" to create an "effortless experience for customers"...

    Customers? Oh, you mean all the workers you put in the unemployment line with this "vision" of the future? Those customers?

    They say automation is unavoidable. We'll see if the concept of Eat the Rich is too.

  • FTFA :-

    In my first test of Amazon Go this past week, my elapsed time in the store was exactly 23 seconds

    WTF did he buy? Sometimes it takes me 5 minutes to find just one particular item in my supermarket. Even though I use the same place every week, they are always moving stuff around according to season, or it seems at the whim of the manager.

  • I picture a thief sitting standing in front of a store shelf with a bag of sand in one hand, and a bag of cookies in the other.

    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      If he knows the weight of the bag of cookies plus packaging down to the milligram, and can do the switch in less than the polling time (probably 0.001 second) of the weight sensor, he deserves it. Also he should really get back to Vegas to do his next magic act.

  • Until then, they should respond "above and beyond the call of duty" when customers report failures

    Methinks there will be LOTS of failures

    If they take the typical corporate attitude, and ignore or argue with the customers, instead of taking a detailed bug report..they will fuck themselves

  • by Nocturrne ( 912399 ) on Monday January 22, 2018 @12:55AM (#55975801)
    Automation is fine, I like that. However, I want to be able to walk into a store, buy something with cash, and walk out, anonymously. Nobody has the right to analyze my life history of hygiene and drinking habits.
    • by mentil ( 1748130 )

      You're free to buy hygiene and alcohol products elsewhere. That said, if you buy a case of beer every week or every month, it doesn't say anything about you because you might be taking them to parties or sharing them with roommates/friends. If you buy a stick of deodorant every week or every 6 months would anyone care? If you buy a box of tampons every month would anyone be surprised? Now, if you're buying cases of Backdoor brand condoms, maybe you'd want to not have to bring that up to the counter and hand

  • bring back your empty packages, replace with new, filled ones on the shelf.
    will the AI decide - oh, they put it back, no charge?
    prepare to find stores full of empty packages!

    and what about those 2 people still working there? checking an id and saying hello to people? those are the 2 things they couldn't figure out how to replace?

  • Ok, say someone picks up a can of beer, then a can of Coke, then puts the can of Coke back on the beer shelf (assume same weight of full cans). Now:
    1. Does the customer pay Coke prices for beer?
    2. Are there robots which will then retrieve the Coke and put it back on the correct shelf?

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