Amazon Delays Launch of Checkout-Free ‘Go’ Supermarkets

The tech doesn't work so well when people move around the store too quickly.

Amazon Go
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon

Imagine a convenience store without any checkout lines: You simply grab what you need and the store automatically charges you when you walk out the door. Pretty cool, huh? Now imagine that technology not working out as well as you planned, forcing you to indefinitely delay the opening of your imaginary store. Not as cool, huh? Sadly, that’s where we stand with Amazon Go – the online retailer’s proposed store of the future that’s going to need a little more future before coming a reality.

We first covered Amazon Go when the brand launched its initial “beta” store in Seattle in December. Since then, this 1,800-square-foot checkout-free supermarket – customers simply scan an app when they walk, and their Amazon account gets charged when they walk out – has been open exclusively to Amazon employees for a testing phase. The original plan was for the store to go public this month, with more to follow nationwide, but according to the Wall Street Journal, those plans have been put on hold due to “technical complications,” as the paper put it.

Like many concepts that sound too simple to be true, the idea of running a supermarket without any cashiers has turned out to be quite complicated. Not that Amazon didn’t realize it would be complicated to begin with: “Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning,” the company said, name checking some not-quite-there-yet innovations. But sources have told the WSJ that Amazon’s “Just Walk Out Technology” which uses a mix of cameras, sensors and algorithms to figure out what’s happening within the store’s walls has been struggling when the shop gets busy – meaning more than about 20 people. Reportedly, the store can also be finicky when items get moved from their specific spot on the shelf – a serious problem being that we all know the only way to get the best box of Cheez-Its is to push the four boxes in front of it out of the way with your forearm.

However, all is not lost. The WSJ says that the technology works perfectly when the shop is only hosting a small number of people… or when customers are moving around slowly – though a convenience store with a shopping speed limit isn’t very convenient. So for now, Amazon is apparently applying the brakes on Go, keeping the store in the testing phase with no timetable as to when the future will reach the general public.

So for the time being, you’ll have to avoid cashiers the old-fashioned way: by doing all your shopping online. Hey, you can even use Amazon for that!

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