5 Things to Know About Amazon Go, the Company's Fully Automated Convenience Store

Stephen Brashear, Getty Images
Stephen Brashear, Getty Images

In Seattle, Amazon’s latest retail experiment is offering a whole new way to buy groceries. Launched on January 22, Amazon Go is a convenience store that requires no checkout whatsoever. It’s equipped with technology that can track which items you pick up—basic food items, pre-made meals and meal kits, booze, etc.—and automatically charge you through an app on your phone. You can be sure that if this pilot store is successful, you’ll see more Amazon Go stores roll out in other cities, too. Here are five things we know about the experience, according to The New York Times’s account of visiting.

1. YOU CAN’T GET IN WITHOUT THE APP.

The store doesn’t have a typical entrance. Instead of entering an open shopping space, visitors first have to pass through automatic gates that resemble the ones that you have to pass through to get into a subway station. To enter, you need to open up the Amazon Go app on your phone and scan your unique code. Once you’re in the store, Amazon’s AI will track the items you pick up and add them to your virtual cart, charging you for them when you leave.

2. YOU WON’T FIND ANY SHOPPING CARTS—OR LINES.

Because there’s no checkout, you don’t need a cart. Instead, you put your items into whatever bag you plan to carry them out in. Since the store is a convenience store, not a full supermarket (1800 square feet compared to the usual 42,000 or so of a grocery store), you probably won’t have so many purchases that you’d need a cart, anyway. And the lack of a checkout process means that you don’t have to wait in line to leave, either. All your purchases are being tracked in the app, so you just have to walk out the door. Amazon will send you an electronic receipt a few minutes after you leave.

3. HUNDREDS OF SMALL CAMERAS ARE ALWAYS WATCHING YOU.

Amazon is staying tight-lipped on how exactly the technology that it uses to track purchases works, but it involves sensors and hundreds of small cameras that can see everything happening in the store. “Amazon’s technology can see and identify every item in the store, without attaching a special chip to every can of soup and bag of trail mix,” according to the Times. The machine learning and computer vision it has developed can tell not just if you’ve picked an item off the shelf, but if you’ve put the item back and decided to purchase something else.

4. YOU MIGHT FEEL LIKE YOU’RE SHOPLIFTING.

There are very few retail experiences that allow you to simply pick up an item and walk out the door without handing anyone cash or a credit card, so making purchases at Amazon Go is likely to feel super weird for most of us. As you slip items into your bag and leave, you may feel like you’re shoplifting, the Times’s Nick Wingfield notes. But that doesn’t mean that you could get away with stealing something if you wanted to. Wingfield tried to trick the cameras by covering up a pack of soda before he took it off the shelf, but the cameras still managed to notice his purchase and charge him for it. A reporter for Ars Technica also tried to fool Amazon’s technology by picking multiple items up and putting them back in different places, but was unable to trip up the app’s shopping cart.

5. YOU’LL STILL SEE EMPLOYEES.

You may not need help checking out, but you may still need to interact with a human. If you want to buy alcohol, an employee waiting in the beer and wine section must check your ID before you can take that six-pack off the shelf. There are also various Amazon employees wandering around to help sort out technical issues and restock shelves, as well as chefs that you can watch prep meals in the kitchen.

But overall, you can easily get through an entire shopping trip without ever speaking to another human—or waiting in line.

[h/t The New York Times]

When David Bowie Launched His Own Internet Service Provider

Scott Barbour, Getty Images
Scott Barbour, Getty Images

There was a surprise waiting for Canadian buyers of The Best of David Bowie 1974/1979, a greatest hits collection by the musician that was released in the summer of 1998. Inside the package was a notice announcing the arrival of BowieNet, a major undertaking spearheaded by the legendary musician that promised a unique portal to the internet. For $19.95 a month, users could access BowieNet in the same way that they logged on to America Online, signing on via a dial-up connection to gain access to the web, email, and a variety of perks for devoted Bowie fans.

The news was a little premature. The Canadian version of the album had been released too early, and BowieNet wasn’t yet up and running when fans first read the news. But by September 1 of that year, Bowie had launched a pioneering effort in the intersection between music, the internet, and fandom. In many ways, BowieNet anticipated the concept of social networking five years before MySpace debuted and six years before Facebook came into existence. It was a fitting accomplishment for an artist who spent his entire career looking for revolutionary ways to share his work.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

Bowie, who first rose to fame during the 1970s glam rock era, had long been fascinated by the promise of digital connectivity. He was reportedly using email as early as 1993. In 1994, he released a CD-ROM of his single, “Jump, They Say,” that allowed users to edit their own music video for the song. In 1996, he released one of the first digital singles, "Telling Lies," and sold 375,000 downloads in just two months. In 1997, Bowie presented a “cybercast” of a Boston concert, which ultimately proved to be too ambitious for the technology of the era (viewers of the live stream were confronted with error messages and frozen feeds).

Clearly excited by the unexplored possibilities these cutting-edge efforts offered, Bowie decided to stake out more digital real estate right around the same time he released "Telling Lies." In 1996, two internet marketers named Robert Goodale and Ron Roy approached Bowie with the idea of building an online fan club that would double as an internet service provider (ISP). In essence, Bowie would be offering online access via a dial-up number using a turnkey web design system from a company called Concentric Network Corporation. The site was developed by Nettmedia, which had worked on web content for the women-centric Lilith Fair music festival that had caught Bowie’s attention.

While users would be free to access any part of the internet, their default landing page would be DavidBowie.com, a place to access exclusive Bowie photos and videos, as well as a unique @davidbowie.com email address and 5 MB of storage space so that they could create their own content. If they wanted to remain with their current internet service provider, they’d pay $5.95 a month for membership.

Bowie liked the idea and became the first investor in UltraStar, Goodale and Roy’s company. More than a figurehead, Bowie actively helped to conceive of BowieNet as having a unique identity. Whereas America Online was a little sterile, Bowie’s aesthetic was more experimental. There were 3D-rendered environments and Flash animation sequences. The CD-ROM sent to subscribers included a customized Internet Explorer browser and music and video tracks, including encrypted material that could only be unlocked online.

More significantly, Bowie used his branded portal to interact with fans. Posting as “Sailor” on the BowieNet message boards, Bowie regularly logged on to answer questions, debunk news reports, or comment on ongoing conversations. He also hosted online chats in real time. In 2017, Newsweek shared excerpts of one 2000 session:

gates asks: "do you gamble in casinos Dave?"
David Bowie answers: No, I only do cartwheels—and don't call me Dave!

queenjanine asks: "Is there anyone you haven't worked with (either dead or alive) that you wish you could?"
David Bowie answers: I love working with dead people. They're so compliant, they never argue back. And I'm always a better singer than they are. Although they can look very impressive on the packaging.

A screen shot from BowieNet, David Bowie's internet portal
Laurence Campling, YouTube

In his loose interactions with fans, Bowie and BowieNet anticipated the explosion of social media. It was an area that interested Bowie, as he often spoke of the idea of art being unfinished until an audience provided their reaction.

“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here—the idea that the piece of work is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their own interpretation, and what the piece of art is about is the gray space in the middle,” Bowie told the BBC in 1999. “That gray space in the middle is what the 21st century is going to be all about.”

With BowieNet, the artist was helping to facilitate that response, in one instance even soliciting a co-creator relationship. In 1999, Bowie took lyrics from an online songwriting contest to help create “What’s Really Happening,” which he put on an album released that same year. He also planned on having a working webcam that peered into his recording studio (though it’s not quite clear whether he achieved it). Ultimately, it was the advancement of internet technology that led to BowieNet's downfall.

With the dissolution of dial-up, BowieNet went from a high of 100,000 subscribers to becoming largely irrelevant in the early 2000s. In 2006, UltraStar’s assets were sold to Live Nation and BowieNet was quietly shut down—though it would take another six years for Bowie to actually announce that fact, via his Facebook page of all places.

But for the 10 years it lasted, BowieNet was the artist's strange, revolutionary predictor of the growing importance of fandom online.

“At the moment,” Bowie told CNN in 1999, the internet "seems to have no parameters whatsoever. It's chaos out there—which I thrive on.”

L’Oréal’s New Wearable Sensor Keeps Track of Your Daily UV Exposure

L'Oréal USA
L'Oréal USA

Anyone who has ever suffered a sunburn knows that too much exposure to UV radiation is bad for your skin. But in the moment, it can be hard to tell when you’ve gotten too much sun—especially during the winter, when you might not think you need sunscreen. (In reality, snow reflects up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV light, so you may end up getting hit with the same rays twice.) A new wearable sensor spotted by Wired aims to make understanding your sun exposure a whole lot easier.

L'Oréal’s new La Roche-Posay My Skin Track UV sensor pairs with a smartphone app to alert users when they’ve had high levels of UV exposure. Developed by L'Oréal’s Tech Incubator in collaboration with Northwestern University engineering professor John Rogers and Swiss designer Yves Béhar, the sensor measures UVA rays (which are associated with skin aging and skin cancer) and uses an algorithm to calculate UVB exposure (which is associated with sunburn and skin cancer).

The UV sensor
L'Oréal USA

At only half an inch tall and 1.3 inches long, the waterproof sensor is designed to be discreetly attached to your clothes, watchband, or sunglasses. The sensor's LED detector measures UV rays as sunlight passes through a small window in the device, then transfers the data to your phone via a near-field communication (the same technology in some hotel key cards). It stores the photons from the UV rays in a capacitor, eliminating the need for a battery.

Based on this data, the My Skin Track app can tell you how close you're getting to the maximum limit of UV exposure doctors recommend per day. It also provides updates about the air quality, pollen count, and humidity wherever you are at any given moment. Based on this information, as well as data about your specific skin type and skin tone, the app's Skin Advice feature will provide customized tips for keeping your skin healthy. It also recommends specific products—La Roche-Posay items can be bought directly through the app, should you desire.

The sensors are exclusively available through Apple stores. You can order one online for $59.95.

[h/t Wired]

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