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Ex-Walmart exec says ‘Amazon Go’ won’t change retail

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Amazon GoAmazon Go won’t win the future of retail, according to one former Walmart senior manager.Getty/Stephen Brashear

  • Joel Larson, the former head of checkout innovation for Walmart, says Amazon Go‘s technology has too many limitations to succeed in large stores. 
  • The technology’s accuracy rates decline in stores with too many products that are similar in appearance, he said. 
  • And the hardware, which includes hundreds of cameras, is expensive and generates significant heat.

Amazon Go’s cashierless technology has been widely touted as the future of retail

But one former Walmart executive says the technology, while impressive, has too many limitations to succeed in grocery stores, department stores, and other retailers with stores that are generally larger than a gas station.

“The Amazon Go store is just a fairy tale for retailers that actually want to make money,” said Joel Larson, a former Walmart senior manager who was head of checkout innovation at the company until October.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Amazon Go uses computer vision powered by hundreds of cameras to track what shoppers remove from shelves. The technology enables shoppers to enter a store, grab what they need, and leave without encountering a cashier or even swiping a credit card. 

Read more: Ex-Walmart exec says theft helped kill Walmart’s cashierless checkout technology

When Larson left Walmart, he joined Innowi, a company that makes handheld mobile checkout devices. In an interview with Business Insider (and later in an article posted to LinkedIn), Larson outlined several reasons why he thinks Amazon Go’s technology won’t be widely adopted by most retailers.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

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1. Accuracy problems. The accuracy of computer vision technology declines in environments with too many similar-looking items, according to Larson. Larson estimated that Amazon Go stores feature roughly 1,000 items. Grocery stores, by comparison, carry roughly 80,000 different products, and big-box retailers such as Walmart carry more than 300,000 products. 

Computer-vision technology can have a hard time differentiating between similar products such as two different sizes of Cheerios boxes, Larson said. The probability of inaccuracies increases with a higher number of overall items, especially when many of those items look similar to one another, he said.

2. Expensive, heavy hardware. Computer-vision technology involves hundreds — if not thousands — of cameras that would be costly to purchase and maintain for a big-box retailer, Larson said. And existing stores may need to make structural changes to their ceilings to support the weight of the cameras, he said.

3. Heat generation.Thousands of cameras put off a lot of heat,” Larson said. “Will the AC systems in today’s stores support all of that heat being generated?  Probably not.”

4. Labor costs. Computer vision technology doesn’t necessarily result in labor cost savings, despite the fact that it eliminates the need for cashiers, Larson said. The technology is usually supported by humans who review video footage in real time to help resolve issues when the software can’t distinguish between similar items.

Exclusive FREE Slide Deck: Future of Retail:AI by Business Insider Intelligence

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

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