The technology behind Amazon Go: retail IT taken to the next level
Having worked in the IoT industry for many years, I’ve somewhat become immune to the sparkle of new product or solution announcements. However, the announcement of Amazon Go recently simply stopped me in my tracks. Amazon Go is a new kind of store with no checkout required. No lines, no chip and pin machine. Customers simply walk in, pick up their products and walk out. However, I’m convinced that when it gets to the point that the first store opens and I’m walking out of the door with my goods underarm, I’ll be looking over my shoulder waiting to hear “’Ello ‘ello ‘ello”.
Amazon Go was due to open to the public by the end of this month, after launching in beta mode to employees in December. Reports suggest that the technology generally functions flawlessly if there are fewer than 20 customers present, or when their movements are slow. However, due to slight kinks in the technology used to automatically charge customers as they leave, and the difficulty of keeping tabs on an item if it has been removed from its specific spot on the shelf, it is now unclear when the store will open.
The delay proves we can’t take connectivity for granted. Amazon Go will potentially handle millions of transactions per day, and this includes the personal data of each individual customer that walks through their doors. This tiny glitch emphasises the need for a connectivity solution that is robust, secure and most likely cloud-connected. Distributed and mobile enterprises across many industries are embracing cloud-connected technologies to increase business agility, empower distributed workforces, and gain operational insights.
Innovative user experiences like Amazon Go are transforming how we connect and distribute data. As a result, an increasing amount of enterprise network traffic is moving off private IP networks and onto the public Internet. Technologies are being developed now for this new “Interprise” era, and companies are deploying private cloud networks over wired and wireless broadband Internet services.
The technology in the Amazon Go store is far from simple. It is supported by a complex system of computer vision, deep machine learning and sensor fusion that works seamlessly to keep communications running between the physical store, the customer’s smartphone and the free Amazon Go app. When a customer arrives, they scan their smartphone to enter, and begin shopping. Digital images of the stock and multiple sensors are used to detect which item is being selected for purchase. If there is any confusion, the deep machine learning aspect of the system kicks in, looking at previous purchases to ascertain which item it is most likely to be. This data is then registered with the customer’s Amazon account and a receipt is sent directly to their smartphone upon leaving the store. The artificial intelligence system comes together to create a retail experience with the convenience of online shopping and the control of walking into a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
By walking out of the store, the items are billed in real time to the customer’s online Amazon account so they can save time usually spent waiting in line. Considering that some surveys suggest the average UK consumer spends as long as 18 days a year in the shops, a concept like this – that saves time and merges the convenience of online shopping with the familiarity of the traditional retail experience – could means a significant reduction in the time it takes to do the weekly shop!
This exciting merge is a ‘digital first’ and going forward, IoT applications like this have the potential to fundamentally change how we connect and interact with each other. The norm is beginning to shift in the retail sector with the opening of this store, and many other sectors will soon follow suit. We’ll have to make sure the connectivity keeps up too!
By Hubert Da Costa, VP EMEA, Cradlepoint
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”