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]

6 Common Fire Hazards Lurking in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Prevent Them)

iStock
iStock

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a house fire can be a costly disaster. According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires account for more than 2500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries in the U.S. every year, not to mention billions of dollars in damage. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 350,000 house fires annually.

The good news is, total fire-related deaths, injuries, and property losses have trended downward in recent years, and that may be due to improved fire-fighting technology at home. Nothing beats the effectiveness of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a solid fire escape plan, but the newest smart home devices can help you prevent these common fire hazards lurking in your home.

1. UNATTENDED BURNERS

Wallflower stove monitor
Amazon

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we ask ourselves, “Did I remember to turn off the stove?” It’s worth double-checking, since cooking equipment is the leading cause of house fires. Stoves, ovens, and other appliances account for nearly 50 percent of incidents, while unattended cooking is the leading contributor to these fires.

Fortunately, new smart stovetop sensors and monitors will alert you when you’ve left the stove on. The Wallflower simply plugs into the wall with your electric stove, then alerts you when the stove is turned on, when it’s been on longer than usual, and even when you leave the house without turning it off. The crowd-funded Inirv React, meanwhile, promises to be a system of smart stove knobs that use sensors and electronics to detect smoke, natural gas, and motion, while allowing you to monitor your stove remotely.

2. DEAD SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERIES

Nest Protect home smoke detector
Amazon

Working smoke alarms should be placed on every floor of your home, and inside every bedroom: They cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.

Basic smoke detectors can get the job done, but newer models can also alert your phone if there's smoke in your home, turn off your HVAC system to slow the spread of smoke, or record video so you can check the situation remotely.

Security expert Emily Patterson of independent review site A Secure Life highlights the Nest Protect as one of her favorite devices for fire safety. “It has CO detection as well as heat and humidity sensors, so it has the ability to distinguish between real causes for concern and burnt toast,” Patterson tells Mental Floss. “You can also enable smartphone alerts, which is handy if you’re not home, and set up automated protocols to unlock doors or record video if the alarm goes off.”

The detector is only as reliable as the battery powering it, though. The Roost Smart Battery allows you to retrofit existing smoke detectors with 9V batteries to be managed by your smartphone and alerts you when battery life is running low (after three to five years).

3. SPACE HEATERS

Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater
Amazon

Space heaters keep things cozy when your existing heating system performs poorly, but they can also be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 1100 residential fires—and more than 50 deaths—are linked to portable electric heaters every year. Fires often occur when the heaters are left on unattended or they’re too close to flammable materials like paper or blankets.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing only newer-model heaters equipped with safety features like a tip-over switch and automatic shut-off, which kicks in if the heater exceeds a certain temperature. The Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater uses diffused mode heat to warm rooms evenly while the machine stays comfortable to the touch. For a more affordable option, the Smart Ceramic Tower Heater has infrared heat settings, a sleep timer, overheating protection, a tip-over safety switch, and Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control it with your smartphone—just in case you forget to turn it off before leaving home.

4. OVERLOADED OUTLETS

Wemo smart plug
Amazon

Heat-producing small appliances like coffee makers and toasters can pose a fire risk if used improperly—like if you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The NFPA recommends plugging only one heat-producing gadget into an outlet at a time [PDF], while smart plugs make it easy to turn off power to small appliances when you’re not home. Some devices even turn off outlets automatically when they’re not in use. There are dozens of options on the market now, from Wemo’s Insight Smart Plug with energy monitoring to the iDevices Switch. Most can be controlled with your phone, and are compatible with smart-home hubs. Be sure to check that the smart plug you choose is equipped with enough power to handle the wattage of your appliances.

5. COMBUSTIBLE LANDSCAPING

B-Hyve sprinkler regulator
Amazon

The landscaping around your home can mitigate fire risks—or multiply them. Any plants that are too close to the house can present a fire hazard, especially when they’re dried out, says Cassy Aoyagi, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.A. Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping. “Several popular plants, like pampas, feather, and fountain grasses, marketed in the West as ‘drought tolerant,’ are actually quite combustible,” she tells Mental Floss.

A smart sprinkler controller makes it easy to ensure that your yard is moist and as fire-safe as possible. It can regulate and even reduce your water consumption, too. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is equipped with a weather-monitoring system to adjust water use based on the forecast. The Orbit B-Hyve has fewer bells and whistles, but still offers smart scheduling with a smartphone app.

6. INTENTIONAL FIRES

iCamera KEEP home security system
Amazon

Let’s hope you never have to deal with this one, because playing with fire is no joke. The NFPA reports that 8 percent of residential fires between 2011 and 2015 were set intentionally, with 15 percent of civilian deaths happening as a result [PDF].

To keep your home safe inside and out, consider using a smart home security system. The iCamera KEEP Pro from iSmartAlarm has a powerful image sensor, sound and motion detection, event-triggered video recording, and a motion-tracking feature that allows the camera to follow movement around your space. The Wyze Cam 2 is a smaller model with motion-tagging technology and a budget-friendly price tag.

Nothing beats the power of common sense, of course. “Preparedness is the best protection,” Patterson says. “Have the right tools, have an evacuation plan, and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires are scary and it can be difficult to act quickly and think clearly in the moment if you aren’t prepared.”

Trulia Now Makes Browsing Neighborhoods as Easy as Browsing Homes

iStock
iStock

An online real estate listing can tell you the number of bedrooms, the square footage, and the price of a property, but until you arrive in person, it's hard to know if the location will be a good fit for you. Trulia is looking to tackle that problem with a new Neighborhoods feature, as Fast Company reports, letting you virtually explore your potential home's surroundings before you show up for the tour.

Trulia, a listings site owned by Zillow, already offers all the standard information you would get from any other real estate service. Now, the new Trulia Neighborhoods feature also makes it possible to research various neighborhoods within the app the same way you would research individual houses and apartments.

The Neighborhoods feature includes a slideshow of annotated images of each neighborhood captured by Trulia's team of photographers and videographers. It also has some objective data about the area, like maps of local businesses, as well as first-hand reports from residents. In the "What the Locals Say" section, for instance, you might find that 90 percent of people reported that a neighborhood is quiet, while just 50 percent said it's easy to find parking there. This part also includes personal testimonies from individual users that you can browse by topic, such as "community" or "dog owners." Neighborhoods also allows you to easily access data on schools, safety, and commute times.

Trulia Neighborhoods isn't available for every market yet. For now, you can only take advantage of it if you're house-hunting in one of 300 neighborhoods across five U.S. cities—San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin, and Chicago. Trulia plans to expand the feature to more than 1100 neighborhoods by the end of 2018.

[h/t Fast Company]

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