Retail, particularly supermarket automation, continues to move faster than ten packets of toilet rolls when a lockdown is announced. It won’t surprise anyone that AI is at the forefront of the solutions changing the way we shop, including computer vision.
We’ve seen AI-powered solutions that remove the need for cashiers in supermarkets and grocery stores before. Some use CCTV, barcode scanners, or beacons and sensors, and others require proprietary technology, but another intriguing solution has entered the market.
Flow (formerly WalkOut) comes as a device store owners can retrofit onto any shopping cart. Using AI, machine learning, edge computing, and high-precision cameras, it identifies each item placed into or removed from the cart with incredible accuracy.
“Flow is a standalone retrofitted cart with four cameras that stream video directly to the computing unit that is installed on the cart,” Assaf Gedalia, CEO at Flow, told me. “The device then can differentiate between the items inserted into the cart by recognizing its packaging. This computing unit also helps make the carts autonomous units that are non- reliant on internet or Wi-Fi.”
Yep. You read that right. Flow doesn’t rely on an internet connection to work, so when the zombie apocalypse happens, and the communication systems go down, at least you’ll still be able to buy some Pop-Tarts.
Seeing Flow in action, it’s easy to be impressed with the system’s use of computer vision and how well it captures the exact product being put in the cart, even when the same brand differentiates products with only the slightest text or image difference.
“Thanks to the advanced computer vision technology, our solution can catch every single item placed in or taken out of the cart,” Gedalia said. “This encompasses any sized item, and we provide alerts to the groceries staff about suspicious behavior and which cart said activity is coming from. Items are instantly shown on screen as soon as they enter the cart and subtracted from the total if they are removed from the cart before the final tally.”
One perennial problem with supermarket automation solutions has been assisting the customer when things are working correctly. How do staff know when there’s a problem so they can help and check the consumer’s purchases?
“We have a system that is called Store Control,” Gedalia said. “This is a monitoring tool that the grocery staff has access to, and they can perform different actions through. For example, they can check a purchase, see what products are in what carts, and help with troubleshooting remotely. There is also a help button on the cart to allow the shopper to call for assistance.”
Another area where Flow helps shoppers is with recommendations, special offers, and coupons.
“Flow is integrated into the retailer’s product base, and once the retailer tags a product with a discount or special price, that discount will appear on the shopper’s screen as well,” Gedalia said. “The same goes for any store coupons or special offers. Flow notifies shoppers based on their location in the store – if they are standing by a yogurt on a two-for-one deal, the cart will notify the shopper. Besides what the store offers, our solution will also provide the shopper with information based on the many data points we analyze from our carts. This allows us also to offer personalized recommendations like complimentary ingredients, warn of products that don’t fit a shoppers personal dietary needs, or suggest a good wine to pair with the steak they just picked up at the butcher section.”
So what’s next for Flow and supermarket automation?
“Flow has already accomplished a lot in just one year, with several grocery store implementations,” Gedalia said. “We believe that our smart cart solution will expand beyond the shoppers’ experience but also change the way store pickers build their carts for customers, indicate stock levels of products for employees with shelf alerts, and overall expand our mission to improve the in-store shopping experience for shoppers, employees, and management.”