With cameras and machine vision, startup seeks to liquidate checkout counters

With cameras and machine vision, startup seeks to liquidate checkout counters

Tel Aviv-based Trigo raises $7 million in a first funding round from UK’s Hetz Ventures and Vertex Ventures Israel

Illustrative image of Israelis grocery shopping at a supermarket in Talpiot, Jerusalem, on April 20, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative image of Israelis grocery shopping at a supermarket in Talpiot, Jerusalem, on April 20, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Computer vision startup Trigo Vision said it has raised $7 million in a first funding round for technology that will allow customers to avoid the normal checkout process in grocery stores.

Israeli brothers Daniel and Michael Gabay, co-founders of the Tel Aviv-based startup, created a system that includes a camera set on the ceiling and machine vision algorithms that track which items customers have taken off the shelves. The camera identifies everything in the store, including the carts, baskets, people, and food items.

Once a customer has taken an item and is holding it or has put it in his cart, the system registers it as being in the customer’s domain. If the customer puts the item back on the shelf, that system will delete that item from the customer’s list of purchases.

Customers can pay for their items in a number of ways when they walk out of the store, and stores can choose the system they prefer.

The team of Trigo Vision, a Tel Aviv-based computer vision startup that wants to do away with check-out counters at stores (Courtesy)

One option is for customers to pre-register their credit card details. Cameras will identify customers when they enter the store, so they will be automatically charged for items taken when they leave.

Another option is for stores to install a payment screen at the exit. The screen will list the items that have been taken, and the customer will only have to confirm that those are correct. The customer can then enter credit card information or pay with cash.

Finally, the Trigo Vision platform offers stores the option to have customers download an app via which the customer can pay for groceries. The app will also send notifications or promotions depending on customers location within the store.

The funding was raised from Hetz Ventures, a UK-based fund that focuses on seed and Series A investments, and Vertex Ventures Israel, a global venture capital fund that invests in early-stage IT and healthcare opportunities.

The benefits of the Trigo Vision platform go beyond removing the checkout line, the company says. With the technology, stores will be able to easily stop shoplifting keep on top of inventory control.

“We know how many products are on the shelves, so if the shelf is half full, or empty, or not organized well, we can send an alert to the manager of the store or headquarter of the company that they need to refill the shelves or change things,” Michael Gabay, the CEO and co-founder, explained.

Eliminating the checkout station will also free up employees to interact with customers and help them find items they are looking for, rather than just swiping items behind a cash register, said COO Jenya Beilin.

Perhaps most significantly, the technology will allow stores to compile anonymous data on customers’ buying behavior and shopping habits.

Because stores will be able to monitor which shelves customers are buying from, “we will have the ability to tell the retailers and the manufacturers — immediately, in real time — what’s going on… and how they can improve their promotions,” said Gabay. For example, a store will know if customers are buying more soda from the beverage shelf or the discount shelf, and will then be able to adjust items’s locations to maximize profits.

Down the road, added Beilin, when the analytics have been gathered, stores will be designed to meet the needs and expectations of customers.

Tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as other startups such as the Israel-based SuperSmart, are all working on solutions to make the shopping experience easier and more efficient.

Earlier this year, Amazon, the American e-commerce behemoth, introduced a new kind of store, Amazon Go, in which no checkout is required. Customers simply walk out with their items and are charged automatically as they exit. Microsoft is also reportedly working on technology that would eliminate cashiers and checkout lines from stores, in a challenge to Amazon, Reuters reported in June. Israel-based SuperSmart has created technology that uses a mobile app to enable shoppers to check out in seconds with no need for a cashier.

Even so, Trigo Vision founders believe their retail automation platform will be among the first to debut in stores.

Unlike Amazon, which built its own stores, Trigo Vision technology is meant to be installed in stores that are already operating and want to be more automated. Additionally, Trigo Vision is investing less than competitors in expensive cameras. Rather, the company is focused on bettering its computer vision tracking by using artificial intelligence.

“Every big retailer right now in the world wants this kind of technology. They understand that they can’t stand behind. A lot of things are changing in the retail world, and they need to be at a point where they can fight back against Amazon and other big retailers developing this type of technology,” said Gabay.

So far, according to Gabay, retailers have been highly receptive to the idea. Trigo Vision is already in discussions with major global retailers and are at an advanced stage with a leading grocer. “We have cameras installed already in some of the biggest cities in the world right now,” said Gabay.

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