Amazon denies ‘Just Walk Out’ tech relies on humans watching on CCTV

Amazon says that reports that Just Walk Out technology relies on 1000 people in India watching on CCTV – as opposed to sophisticated AI – are erroneous.

Andrew Wooden

April 18, 2024

3 Min Read

Just Walk Out is a ‘cashier-less’ technology which through a combination of sensors, cameras and computer vision algorithms can detect whenever an item is taken off a shelf in specialised stores.

This means shoppers can simply walk in, scan to log in to their Amazon account, pick up what they want, and then leave the shop with payment occurring automatically – removing the need to use a till.

Amazon opened its first UK store armed with this tech in London three years ago, opting to brand them Amazon Fresh here as opposed to Amazon Go in the US at the time.  

Earlier this month a claim began circulating that the Just Walk Out system wasn’t quite as free from the human touch as it may have appeared – in that it relied on over 1,000 people to watch shoppers as they walked around to double-check the sensors we accurately recording their activity. The details of this account were contested at the time, however, and it seems like it may have been more to do with people reviewing videos after the event to ensure accuracy of billing.

As part of a general update of its various teched-up shopping endeavours, Amazon has responded to the claims calling them ‘erroneous’:

“The erroneous reports that Just Walk Out technology relies on human reviewers watching from afar is untrue. Most AI systems, including the underlying ML models behind these technologies, are continuously improved by annotating synthetic (AI generated) and real shopping data. Our associates are responsible for this labelling and annotation step. Associates don’t watch live video of shoppers to generate receipts—that’s taken care of automatically by the computer vision algorithms. This is no different than any other AI system that places a high value on accuracy, where human reviewers are common.”

Even so, the blog post does appear to indicate it is pulling back from Just Walk Out in favour of another bit of retail tech it’s come up with called Amazon Dash Cart in larger stores: “Customers so far prefer Amazon Dash Cart, our smart shopping cart, which uses the same advanced, computer vision technology as Just Walk Out,” says the blog.

Amazon Dash Cart also removes the need for a checkout, but also serves as a ‘shopping companion’ via a screen on the trolly that helps shoppers locate items with maps and navigation, receive ‘personalized shopping experiences’ (whatever that means), and track their spending in real time.

Instead, it seems to be repositioning Just Walk out towards smaller stores: “We have strong conviction that Just Walk Out technology will be the future in stores that have a curated selection where customers can pop in, grab the small number of items they need, and simply walk out,” continues the blog. “We are excited about the future of AI-powered, identity and checkout solutions like Just Walk Out technology, Amazon Dash Cart, and Amazon One. The future of retail will be transformed by AI, and we are just getting started.”


Presumably Amazon is doing all this as a long term play to sell the technology to more dedicated retail businesses, as opposed to a strong desire to bolster its vast cloud computing and etail empire with local fruit and veg sales.   

Much like when automated driving demonstrations rely on humans monitoring the vehicle, controlling it remotely, or even being on board, you could be forgiven for wondering what the point of automated systems are if you need people to look after them anyway, since no genuinely big problem seems to be solved by doing so.  

But of course, we are talking about cutting edge tech, and perhaps in ten or twenty years this will be the norm and you’ll never have to go through the apparently intolerable experience of going through a checkout and interacting with some obsolete human ever again.  

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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