Microsoft Working On Shop Automation Tech To Rival Amazon Go

Image credit: Amazon

Microsoft is working with retailers to build checkout-free systems like the Amazon Go shop that opened to the public in January

Microsoft is working on technology to eliminate till checkouts in shops, which it could sell to retailers looking to keep up with an automated store from Amazon called Amazon Go.

The company has shown sample technology to retailers in a number of countries and has had talks with Wal-Mart about a potential collaboration, Reuters reported.

Amazon opened Amazon Go to the public in January after extensive trials that included four years of secret tests and a two-year pilot programme for staff.

The initial location is in one of the buildings that make up Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle. The company said it is planning to open Amazon Go shops soon in Chicago and San Francisco.

Credit: Amazon

Automated checkout

Customers scan their smartphones when they enter the shop, which then uses  a complex system made up of camera arrays and artificial intelligence software to keep track of what items they put into their baskets.

When they’re finished shopping customers simply leave the store, and Amazon bills a card on their account.

Amazon’s programme has led retailers to begin testing their own ways of automating checkout systems, which could reduce their dependence on cashiers.

Microsoft’s effort is aimed at providing technology that could help retailers’ efforts, and to date has mostly fallen under the company’s Business AI unit. A group of 10 to 15 people has worked on the tech, presenting some of it to chief executive Satya Nadella, according to Reuters.

One challenge has been making the technology cheap enough for retailers to afford. Nadella reportedly recommended one “intelligent edge” device that could manage AI-powered retail devices such as cameras with minimal data transfers to remote servers, which would cut down on costs.

Amazon Go in Seattle. Credit: Amazon

Cloud-based tech

The team includes a computer vision specialist hired from Amazon Go and has tested techniques such as attaching cameras to shopping carts to track items. The team has also looked at ways for smartphones to play a role in the shopping experience.

Microsoft is the second biggest cloud services provider after Amazon, and works with retailers on projects such as their e-commerce sites.

Some half a dozen partners are building checkout automation or related services on Microsoft’s cloud, including Redmond, Washington-based AVA Retail, Reuters said.

Microsoft has developed intelligent sensors for years, unveiling its fourth-generation Kinect sensor at the Build conference last month.

The Kinect for Azure programme allows customers to use Kinect depth sensors and Azure-powered AI for object recognition.