It was just about a year ago when Amazon opened its first cashierless Amazon Go store in Seattle. Throughout 2018, others were quick to follow as players like Microsoft, Standard Cognition, Sam’s Club, Deep Mind, AI Poly, 7-11 and Trigo Vision all started developing and rolling out their own versions of cashierless checkout retail experiences.
All this is to say that while the cashierless checkout space is pretty crowded, another entrant, Grabango (pronounced GraBANGo), yesterday announced it had raised a $12 million Series A round to roll out its take on cashierless tech. The round was led by Propel Ventures, and brings Grabango’s total amount raised to $18 million.
Like Standard Cognition and Trigo Vision, Grabango builds cashierless systems for third parties — retailers that want to implement such systems without building them in-house. I spoke with Grabango CEO, Will Glaser, who said that his company’s technology differs from the competition in a few ways.
First, it uses small, smartphone-like cameras and sensors. Mounted to the ceiling, these vision systems are not so high-def that they can read barcodes, but are, according to Glaser, the equivalent of a person looking across a room. They can tell the difference between a can of Coke and a can of Diet Coke. There are a lot of these cameras installed, so much so, that every item on a shelf has 200 percent coverage. If one fails, there’s another watching.
Glaser said the algorithms powering their AI and computer vision TECH are smart enough to detect and work through elemental changes such as lighting conditions, as well as branding changes (like when Coke releases its holiday packaging) in real time.
Glaser also says that Grabango’s system already works at scale. It can be retrofitted into an existing retailer as large as 100,000 square feet of space with hundreds of simultaneous shoppers.
Finally, Grabango handles checkout in two different ways. If you download and install the Grabango app you can literally “grab-n-go,” placing all your items in a bag and walking out. The mobile app will then charge you accordingly. Or, you can also gather all your items and go to a checkout stand and pay however you want with cash, credit, Apple Pay, etc. (even with SNAP benefits). The system knows when you — and all the stuff you’re buying — are at the checkout stand, provides the total so all you have to do is pay the cashier.
It may seem counterintuitive for a cashierless checkout company to offer a checkout option, but Glaser said that Grabango’s system eliminates the most time-consuming part of the checkout process — taking items out of your cart and manually scanning them — so you can just pay.
According to him, the company is already in pilots with three major grocers and one convenience store chain in the U.S., though he wouldn’t provide any further details. Grabango is a SaaS business and charges retailers a monthly subscription fee.
One aspect of Grabango’s technology that the company isn’t as focused on right now is the real-time information it can provide to retailers. Who needs a shelf-scanning robot slowly going up and down aisles, when the ceiling mounted cameras can tell in real time what items are low? There also seem to be opportunities for real-time mapping of stores to make online order fulfillment by human workers faster and more efficient.
Between Amazon Go’s aggressive rollout and the number of startups working on the issue, cashierless tech in the real world is poised to accelerate this year.