'Just Walk Out' scrapped | Amazon's AI-powered cashier-less stores actually relied on 1,000 remote contractors

Amazon's AI-powered cashier-less stores actually relied on 1,000 remote contractors

Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” stores, which purported to replace cashiers with AI-enabled video technology, rely on the remote labor of 1,000 contractors in India, according to a report from the Information.

The e-commerce technology is now being scrapped in larger stores.

With the use of cameras and sensors, Amazon tracks the items customers put into their shopping bags and allows them to leave without checking out. A bill is later to their Amazon account.

In theory, the system was designed to be fully automated, relying on AI to process the cameras and sensors, thereby removing the need for any retail cashiers. The move was followed by the likes of Walmart who also hoped to test the feasibility of a store with no employees.

However, eight years after the initial introduction of Just Walk Out, it appears the ‘supermarket of the future’ was a bridge too far for the e-commerce giant.

Whilst it appeared the shopping experience was fully automated with no store employee interaction, it turns out that some 1,000 workers in India were contracted to review footage of customers and manually put together receipts.

The Information reports that 700 out of 1,000 Just Walk Out sales needed human involvement, way above Amazon’s target of 50 reviews per 1,000 sales – though Amazon says these figures are inaccurate.

Speaking to Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Amazon said that the role of associates working on the Just Walk Out tech is to “annotate video images, which is necessary for continuously improving the underlying machine learning model powering.”

However, they also acknowledged the workers validate “a small minority” of shopping visits when AI failed to determine a purchase.

Critics of the Just Walk Out concept have argued Amazon has undercut the job market in locations with such a store, replacing workers with automation.

As it turns out, the criticism now focuses on Amazon’s move to rely on outsourced labor with lower wages rather than offering local workers fair wages.

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The AI-enabled technology behind Just Walk Out has been costly to implement and slow to take effect, with customers complaining about the time it took – often hours – to receive the receipt for their shopping trip.

The system was put in place by Amazon at half of its Amazon Fresh stores, and it will keep using the technology at smaller corner stores.

But whilst the AI technology has failed to eliminate the need for human intervention, and Amazon is scrapping the system in larger stores, don’t expect to see employees working in an Amazon Fresh store any time soon.

Instead, it plans to implement ‘Dash Carts,’ which include scanners and screens embedded in the shopping cart so customers can scan products as they go.

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