Autonomous check-out comes to California university store

Shoppers check in to San Jose State University's Ginger Market. (San Jose State University)

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San Jose State University unveiled an autonomous check-out system at one of its on-campus markets this week, similar to Amazon Go’s cashier-less stores.

The California university installed a set of cameras in a market that tracks shoppers once they tap in with a mobile app, tallying up purchases and noting if an item is returned to the shelf. The university’s food service vendor, Chartwell Education, claims the store, called Ginger Market, is the first retail location in the area with autonomous check-out. SJSU Associate Director of Commercial Services Raymond Luu told EdScoop that there were 600 transactions at the store on Wednesday, a 50% increase in business that he attributed to recent marketing of the new feature and quicker check-out times.

“It was a combination of the rich tradition and culture that we have here at San Jose State with the students being very receptive to technological advances and when you think about Silicon Valley, when you think about the gateway to the Silicon Valley, San Jose State is really at the at the core of that and so it just really made the most sense to have it here on campus,” Luu said.

The camera system, installed for free by the San Francisco company StandardAI, uses machine learning to detect what items shoppers are picking up, but does not use facial recognition. Instead, the software creates a wireframe model of each shopper and tracks movements using the cameras. To use the system, shoppers must download an app called Boost, which San Jose State uses for mobile food ordering.

Luu said installing the sensors only required a small amount of rewiring, but the university and vendor still needed to train the machine learning models to recognize items and the layout of the store through hours of testing.

StandardAI markets cashier-less systems to fit existing spaces. Its other customers include a market at the University of Houston and a store at a Minor League Baseball stadium in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Amazon rolled out its first cashier-less store, branded Amazon Go, in Seattle in 2018, and has since launched more than 30 locations across the country. Other grocery stores also rolled out technology to streamline the checkout experience. The retailer Kroger in 2020 introduced grocery carts equipped with scanners and scales so customers can check out their own groceries while they shop. Regional stores like Meijer and Giant Eagle have also experimented with allowing customers to scan as they go.

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