The cashierless checkout space is getting downright frothy these days. Caper came out of stealth and officially threw its hat in the autonomous retail ring today with a public announcement about its technology and news that to date, it has raised $3.5 million from First Round Capital, Y Combinator and others.
Caper’s take on the cashierless checkout shifts the technology emphasis from cameras mounted in the ceiling to an AI-powered smart shopping cart. The current Caper cart requires users to scan an item’s barcode before throwing them into their cart. Future iterations, already in the works, will remove the barcode and will use a combination of computer vision and built-in weight scales on the cart to determine purchases. Once a customer is done shopping, they exit the store and pay on the built-in screen.
The advantage to this, according to Caper’s press announcement, is that grocery stores do not have to retrofit their stores to enable cashierless checkout. Retailers can simply swap out their old shopping carts for the connected Caper ones. The company says that its smart carts are not that much more expensive than traditional ones.
As Caper told TechCrunch, additional benefits include using the attached screen to map stores and guide shoppers to specials or complementary products (Bought ice cream? How ’bout some chocolate sauce on Aisle 3?) or recipe suggestions. Data from the carts can also tell retailers where people are traveling within the store to provide insight on optimal inventory placement.
And while the company didn’t point it out specifically, moving the computer vision to the cart means that it can scale to even the most massive of grocery stores out of the box as the technology only has to monitor what customers place inside.
Having said that, it seems like one drawback to Caper’s approach is requiring shoppers to use a cart in order to work. There are plenty of times when I go into a store and just grab one or two items and carry them out. Presumably, Caper’s technology wouldn’t record that, but permanent ceiling-mounted cameras would see everything, allowing for broader automated shopping scenarios (no carts) while providing retailers more accurate real-time inventory observation/management.
This has certainly been a big week for cashierless checkout startups. This past Monday, Grabango raised $12 million of for its scalable solution that uses lots of small, ceiling-mounted smartphone-sized cameras. And not that long ago, Standard Cognition raised $40 million for its autonomous retail solution.
Caper’s smart carts are already in use by two unnamed grocery store chains, Grabango says it has partnerships with four retail partners, and Amazon will most certainly continue its rapid Go store expansion. All this investment and activity happening now means cashierless checkout will become more mainstream this year.