Is Touchless Technology Poised To Finally Take Off? – Forbes

Contactless checkout technology has been around for several years, but as evidenced by retail’s newest unicorn, Standard Cognition, the time may finally be right for an expanded presence.

Standard Technology last month raised $150 million at a $1 billion valuation, minting a new unicorn. The company plans to use the funds to fuel expansion of its “just walk out technology” that uses camera vision to identify products in a shopper’s cart (or hand), links to an app on their mobile device and charges the items to a card registered to that app. It makes shopping easy.

Cashierless technology isn’t new, we first got a glimpse of it in January 2018, when Amazon AMZN opened its first Amazon Go AMZN convenience store in Seattle. That concept has expanded to at least 26 locations, two Amazon Go supermarkets and a new Amazon Fresh AMZN in the UK, which opened earlier this month and spurred a flurry of pundits wondering if the manned cashier lane is soon-to-be retired.

The answer is no. Not soon. Not even close.

As it turns out, attaining this level of simplicity is quite complicated and costly. The stores include shelf sensors, multiple cameras and software, in addition to monitoring, maintenance and repairs.

Standard Cognition gained attention with a solution that uses far fewer cameras and eschews shelf censors (although it has since acquired sensor company, Checkout Technologies). The original plan had been a rapid deployment but several years in, just four stores are operational. Some of this latest round of funds raised will step it up.

“We’re trying to get to over a 100 stores this year,” COO Michael Suswal said in a interview. Standard Cognition operates three locations in partnership with Compass Group’s food service operation in Polar stadium, one Circle K convenience store and the company’s own original location in San Francisco. The Circle K pilot is anticipated to expand to an unspecified number of stores.

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The front-end camera technology remains the same, but the company is focused on the back-end infrastructure by creating a system to conduct automated health checks rather than having people monitoring a dashboard round the clock, Suswal said.

There’s also a push for more advanced security features beyond capturing footage. This feature, along with monitoring out of stock items, are among the two most requested by retailers in addition to the checkout technology, according to Suswal. “We’ll deploy the more advanced security later this year.”

The pandemic has amplified the need for touchless technology, although it’s unclear how this might change as health concerns recede. Critics have bemoaned the loss of jobs this portends, but that conversation has been muted in the past year. Retailers have gone from considering how the technology can reduce labor to how it might help saves lives, Suswal shared.

Standard Cognition isn’t alone in pursuing this market. Amazon is also marketing its Go technology to third parties including its newest handsfree tech called Amazon One enabling contactless entry to various locations. There are various other outfits, including AiFi, another checkout-free technology that will launch with European supermarket chain Wundermart this year.

This effort will no doubt be closely watched. Locations with small footprints and limited SKUs such as Circle K and Amazon Go are easier to scale than large grocers, but supermarkets are the ultimate goal. One made even more complicated by the fact that most US supermarkets operate on razor thin margins and often push some merchandising costs off to their vendors. It’s another area the new investment and higher valuation may come in handy, as Standard Cognition would consider funding an installation to break into this larger market, Suswal said.

“We want to deploy to supermarkets this year,” said Suswal. “We have a few candidates.” There is interest from supermarket chains looking to shrink the size of the store environment and move into new markets and from some large grocers which also operate convenience store sized outlets that could use the technology.

Said Suswal, “The idea being to launch in a small one this year or next, and simultaneously install cameras in a large supermarket [to] start getting analytics.”

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