Amazon Abandons ‘Just Walk Out’ Development, Leaving Only a Skeleton Crew

Amazon, Development, Just Walk Out, Kills, Leaving, Skeleton Crew

The recent layoffs at Amazon have raised questions about the future of the company’s Just Walk Out technology, which allows customers to shop without going through a traditional checkout process. While Amazon claims that it remains committed to the technology and will continue investing in it, the layoffs have left many wondering what this means for the future of Amazon Go stores and other retailers that rely on the technology.

According to a former Amazon employee, the decision to lay off the engineers working on Just Walk Out was unexpected and blindsided the team. The technology, which was first introduced in 2016, tracks which items customers are buying using cameras and sensors. Initially, the technology required significant human review, but over time, the goal was to reduce the need for human intervention.

However, the technology faced several challenges and did not meet internal metrics. One of the main issues was the reliance on human reviewers to label and verify purchases that the computers couldn’t. This process was time-consuming and limited the autonomy of the system. While the technology had made progress in reducing the need for human review, it still fell short of internal goals.

Another challenge was the cost of the sensors used in the Just Walk Out system. While the team had set a goal to bring the price down to $100 per sensor, they could only manage to get it down to $350. This cost was considered too high for large retail locations, making it more suitable for smaller convenience stores with fewer products and customers.

Despite these challenges, Amazon maintains that it is still committed to Just Walk Out and plans to open even more stores using the technology in 2024 than in any previous year. However, the dissolution of the internal engineering team will undoubtedly impact the future development of the technology.

The layoffs at Amazon also raise broader questions about the viability of fully automated retail. When Just Walk Out was launched in 2016, it seemed like a revolutionary concept. However, in practice, it has been difficult to achieve a high degree of accuracy and reliability. Other automated retail companies, such as Juxta and Brysk, focus on small convenience stores where the number of products is limited, making it easier for AI systems to track purchases.

Steve Liguori, co-founder of Juxta, believes that fully unstaffed grocery stores may not be feasible with the current technology available. He argues that the AI still has a low degree of confidence in many purchases, and asking customers to review their own receipts can help improve accuracy. Ankur Sharma, CEO of Brysk, adds that the amount of data in a supermarket can overwhelm early machine-learning tools.

Amazon’s venture into large supermarkets with automated retail systems was ambitious, but it may have been too much too soon. While Amazon is big enough to take risks, the challenges they faced highlight the complexity of automating the shopping experience fully. While Just Walk Out may continue in some capacity, it is clear that Amazon is giving up on the team that was working to improve the technology.

In conclusion, the recent layoffs at Amazon have raised doubts about the future of Just Walk Out technology. While Amazon claims it remains committed to the technology, the dissolution of the internal engineering team suggests otherwise. The challenges faced by Just Walk Out, including the reliance on human review and the high cost of sensors, highlight the difficulties of achieving fully automated retail. While the concept of shopping without a traditional checkout process is enticing, it seems that the technology still has a long way to go before it can deliver on its promises.

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