A cheap take on Amazon Go turns surveillance cameras into cashiers

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Since Amazon Go's announcement, there has been a rush to duplicate the company's cashierless store concept without the same level of tech investment.

The latest competitors are focused on the cameras that identify items as consumers take them off of the shelves. Amazon's store was built from the ground up with cameras and sensors to detect which items are being taken by which shoppers; it's unlikely that rival supermarkets will want to do as much heavy lifting in their existing stores.

Trigo Vision, a Tel Aviv-based computer vision startup that serves retail clients, on Wednesday announced it had emerged from "stealth" following a $7 million investment from U.K.-based Hetz Ventures and Vertex Ventures Israel. Trigo combines conventional surveillance cameras with machine vision algorithms to identify and capture shopping items.

The company's goal is to require fewer and less powerful cameras by relying on a data collection and analytics. Trigo Vision wants to undercut the the other developers pursuing cashierless stores that use a denser array of advanced cameras that cost significantly more per unit.

Trigo Vision relies on the general surveillance cameras that most retail chains already use, which cost between $50 and $200. The highest resolution security cameras vary widely in price, but are mostly above $500 and often higher than $1,000.

"We're using basic cameras that most stores have today," said Michael Gabay, co-founder and CEO of Trigo Vision. "There are already lots of cameras in stores."

Rather than investing in more expensive hardware to enhance the accuracy of image capture, Trigo Vision has focused on leveraging deep learning and artificial intelligence to develop tracking that identifies items, brands, price, discounts and pairs that information to the shoppers' e-commerce accounts.

Trigo Vision's idea of repurposing a store's existing technology echoes that of some loyalty systems that use ultrasonic noise to communicate with shoppers' smartphones as they walk through a store. In 2012, Macy's implemented a system from shopkick that used the store's Muzak system to transmit the ultrasonic frequency.

Amazon has not detailed the technology it uses in its cashierless store, but an analysis of its patent application suggests Amazon is using the technology involved in powering the Alexa digital assistant, combined with the sensor technology that supports self-driving cars. Amazon has been fine-tuning the Amazon Go store for about two years, and has only started opening stores this year, with a pair of locations in Seattle and other stores planned for Chicago, San Francisco and other cities.

That slow pace hasn't stopped competitors from responding to retailers' fears of disruption.

Microsoft is also building cashierless technology, reportedly in collaboration with Walmart. Microsoft is taking an open development approach, considering options such as mounting cameras on shopping carts and using a cloud server to analyze purchases. In a more recent rollout, Boston-based Moltin is using a mix of e-commerce payments and internet-of-things technology to reduce reliance on camera-based surveillance.

"It’s too early to say that the demand for Amazon-Go like technology is strong. Rather, the interest will be strong," said Rick Oglesby, president of AZ Payments. "It’s not yet a market-proven technology, so retailers will be interested in experimentation. Few, however, will roll out these technologies to any level of scale until they have been tried and proven."

Even Amazon isn’t rolling out in significant scale yet, Oglesby noted. "We expect product launches and experimentation to be common, but scaled rollouts will be a few years out still."

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