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8 Automated Checkout Systems Checking You Out

If you can’t tell the difference between a Danish pastry and a croissant, new automated checkout systems might earn you your friends’ respect next time you arrange the ultimate friendcation Sunday brunch by helping you differentiate them. They are that good. A few months back, we explored retail automation solutions that help us feast upon that “cashierless, frictionless and seamless” in-store experience. This year, more artificial intelligence self-checkout startups seem to be getting the upper hand of the retail operation flow, nibbling away at the merchants’ legwork while leaving them to focus, as they aptly put it, on what matters most – the experiential aspect of shopping.

Everybody Wins with Automated Checkout Systems

Let’s not forget about the healthy dose of self-interest companies are driven by, called KYC (Know-Your-Customer). AI-supported KYC is a sophisticated variant of the marketing classic: “If you’re not paying, you’re the product.” By using automated checkout systems, we are feeding the beast with nutritious data portions, revealing what makes us happy and satisfied, and exposing our weak points.

Taking into consideration the conscience-cleaning, albeit half-correct advertising maxim, we can all agree that retail experience is a big give-and-take game, which merchants are most likely to win but customers are all too happy to play. We hate waiting in lines. We love knowing what’s in our food. We get a kick out of shelves stocked with our favorite chips. And we definitely want to save our face in front of our friends by dropping knowledgeable food and drink hints on Sunday brunches. So, we also win a few battles as customers.

As for the 3.55 million cashiers across the United States that make an average $21,030 a year, that represents a potential $74.7 billion in annual spend, or lost wages, depends on how you look at it. These ladies – yes, far more cashiers are female than male – can now go get some AI certifications and help shore up that tech pipeline. See? Everyone wins.

8 Startups for Automated Checkout Systems

If we can agree that Ikea is another version of an adult Lego, then retail automated checkout systems are somewhere between an adult Walmart playground and a social experiment in shoplifting. For the startups on this list, however, things are turning more serious.

Going Bigger than Amazon

Click for company websiteThe story of the San Francisco-based Standard Cognition is only two years old, but it has already raised nearly another $45 million since we covered it less than a year ago. That brings total funding to $50.6 million. It brings automated checkout systems to areas more than 20,000 square feet in size. That’s 10 times more than the average Amazon Go store.

Standard Cognition is leveraging navigation technology from another AI startup to track customers for its automated checkout system.

Standard Cognition is leveraging navigation technology from another AI startup to track customers for its automated checkout system. Credit: Standard Cognition

Standard Cognition recently acquired Explorer.ai, another AI-powered startup that develops software to integrate individualized navigation maps for driverless cars into a sophisticated collaborative platform. Drivers may veer on the side of safety when using maps on an open road. In-store, navigation is less risky. The combo of affordable ceiling-based cameras and precise maps is stern competition to Amazon Go, where shelves are inundated with expensive sensors to track customer movement.

“While Amazon requires hundreds of cameras to track customers, Standard Cognition can do it with just 27,” says TechCrunch. The article goes on to say that the ambitious startup is equipping stores for its first four partners — all public companies that include U.S. grocery, drug store, and convenience store businesses along with Japan’s pharmacy chain Yakuodo.

And Even Bigger

Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, Grabango raised a $12 million Series A this month, to bring total funding to $17.3 million. For this startup, 20,000 square feet is only scratching the surface area. Grabango aspires to implement automated checkout systems on areas as large as 100,000 square feet, training its retail automation to recognize objects with an almost perfect (99.9%) accuracy. As reported by VentureBeat, Grabango’s technology is being used to serve more than 600 million shoppers in four large U.S. retailers. It can also reportedly remove the need for manual inventory, a service we’ve seen before from other grocery technology startups.

Autonomous Inventory System

Click for company websiteGrabango isn’t the only startup also automating retail inventory. Pensa Systems’ autonomous perception systems ensure you will no longer leave a store without a supply of your favorite beer brand. Based in Austin, Texas, Pensa has raised $7.2 million in funding since its founding in 2016.

Screenshot of an inventory system.

The store is almost out of Budweiser. Thank goodness. Credit: Pensa

The company uses a combination of AI and robotics to develop an automated checkout system for improved retail inventory visibility. An autonomous drone collects data during off hours or lightly trafficked areas. Also, it’s a data subscription service, so it doesn’t overload retailers with immense capital expenditures.  

Military-Grade Automated Checkout System

Click for company websiteFounded only back in July 2018, Israeli startup Trigo Vision, located in Tel Aviv, took in a $7 million Seed round only six months ago. Trigo’s overhead cameras are similar to Standard Cognition’s solution. The company claims its AI-powered camera network can significantly reduce shoplifting, as well as provide real-time insights on shoppers who aren’t trying to steal everything not nailed down.

A camera system for automated checkout.

Credit: Trigo Vision

Like most companies from the Startup Nation, Trigo Vision’s founders learned their tech skills during their mandatory service in the military. The company claims its patent-pending computer vision technology requires far fewer cameras compared to other solutions on the market today.

Automated Checkout Shopping Cart

Click for company websiteCaper is a Brooklyn baby. Founded in New Yawk in 2017 with $3 million in venture capital, Caper is more of an automated shopping cart than a fully automated checkout system. The company found out that retail automation solutions were difficult to implement because they were messing with the merchant’s operation flow. Therefore, Caper transformed the conventional grocery trolley into a smart cart, equipping it with image recognition and weight sensors.

Automated checkout comes to the humble shopping cart.

Automated checkout comes to the humble shopping cart. Credit: Caper

The easy-to-scale automated cart provides shopping recommendations and discount details, and has already found its place in the in-store equipment of Caper’s retail partners Key Food, Pioneer, Met Fresh, Brooklyn Fare, Foodcellar, and C-Town Supermarkets.

Automated Checkout with Privacy

Click for company websiteSan Francisco-based Zippin was founded just last year. The startup uses Amazon’s magic potion for automated checkout systems based on AI, machine learning, and sensor fusion technology, to track inventory and to ensure shelves are fully and adequately stocked. Having a former Amazon staffer as Zippin’s CEO couldn’t hurt either. You can see the system in action here:

Customers use a QR code as a key to the store. There is no facial recognition feature, so there is less burden on privacy.

Using 3D Reconstructions for Automated Checkout

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, Silicon Valley-based Mashgin has taken in several rounds of undisclosed funding, including from well-known accelerator Y Combinator. Its automated checkout system is geared toward cafés, small markets, and self-scan outdoor stands.

Automated checkout kiosks from Mashgin.

Credit: Mashgin

The startup is developing an object recognition technology that uses 3D reconstruction, computer vision, and deep learning to accurately distinguish meal components, such as the burger from the fries and the ketchup on a burger plate. There are no barcodes or RFID. You can toss your food selection on the plate, place it on the scanner, let it identify its contents, before ringing up a total charge. Customers can pay with smartphones, a badge, or a credit card.

Faster Lines with Automated Checkout

Click for company websiteFounded in 2017, Checkout Technologies has picked up about $1 million in funding and probably one of the better company names for automated checkout SEO. Its automated checkout system features object, face, and action recognition to solve two critical issues of self-service checkouts: slow lanes and confusing barcode placements, which makes those self-checkout scanners less efficient than a human being – even one who works as a retail clerk in a grocery store. Checkout Technologies claims its object recognition technology makes its automated checkout system 70% faster than self-checkout.

Conclusions

From the customer perspective, automated checkout systems are definitely about less friction around the seams. Fewer cashiers, reinvented smart shopping carts, and after-hours stock inventory robots and drones are just a skimpy description of what aims to be the revolution of retail, which is amplified by deep-learning algorithms, image recognition, computer vision, and robotics. Regardless of how defensive we get when we think our privacy is jeopardized, we kind of like the warm, fuzzy, and effortless feeling personalized shopping offers. Come to think of it, automated checkout systems can help us spare security staff from keeping an eye on shoplifters and retrain them to better serve loyal customers.

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