30 minutes | Aug 10th 2020

Grabango's Ryan Smith | Machine Vision, IoT, and the Future of Retail

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In episode 78 of the IoT For All Podcast, Grabango’s CTO Ryan Smith joins us to talk about the role of machine vision and IoT in the future of grocery stores, including some of the technology that makes their solution possible, the effect retail automation will have on employees, and where he sees the role of computer vision in the future.

Ryan Smith is a leading expert in artificial intelligence, computer vision, and distributed systems. Ryan got his start in IoT working at a biotech company, shipping robots - when he started looking into the technology to collect data, he saw the rise of the new IoT market. After that, he joined a startup focused on IoT deployments for robotics and manufacturing. Now, at Grabango, Ryan is helping grocery stores eliminate the checkout line.

To kick off the podcast, Ryan gave us some background on Grabango. Grabango attempts to solve the problem of lines at the grocery store by automating the experience, focusing on large-scale grocery store chains. They leverage machine learning and computer vision to identify items as they’re placed in the customer’s basket and creates a frictionless checkout experience.

Ryan said it’s been a difficult problem to solve - grocery stores tend to have “tens to hundreds to thousands of SKUs spread across a large square foot.” Tracking all of those products and correctly identifying them as they enter carts can prove challenging, involving a large number of cameras in the store and neural networks and computer vision models operating on the edge, bringing all of that data into play. 

Solutions like this not only eliminate the frustration of queuing, by tracking products as they leave the shelves, stores would be able to receive out of stock alerts in real-time, better plan inventory, and gain insight into customer traffic to improve store layouts and identify bottlenecks.

While there have been a number of factors making solutions like this possible, some of the big contributors, Ryan said, have been the decreased cost of computer vision and edge computing, as well as the recent need for grocery stores to improve efficiency amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As grocery stores are an essential business, Ryan said many have been struggling to keep up with the demand presented by quarantine.

Switching to what solutions like Grabango’s mean for the future of retail, Ryan said that stores can expect to decrease shrinkage and free up employees to contribute to the user experience. By tracking items as they leave the shelf, rather than once they get to the cashier, it takes the pressure off of cashiers to catch hidden items or to carefully watch multiple self-checkout stations at once. “Cashiers are human,” Ryan said, “and they get busy sometimes. They may not always be perfect.”

And as far as eliminating jobs? While Ryan said that the discussion always comes up when automation enters a new industry, he said that he’s seen stores move employees into more valuable positions with the introduction of these new technologies. “Retailers are currently having trouble staffing,” Ryan said, “so they’re more concerned about keeping up than removing employees. This is an efficiency improvement for the people they already have.”

Interested in connecting with Ryan? Reach out to him on Linkedin!

About Grabango: Grabango is the leading provider of checkout-free technology for existing, large-scale store chains. Grabango delivers a next-generation shopper experience and is the only enterprise-class, checkout-free solution on the market today. 

Key Questions and Topics from this Episode:

(01:08) Introduction to Ryan Smith

(02:27) Introduction to Grabango

(03:37) What exactly is the anatomy of a smart store?

(05:26) How does a smart store benefit the behind-the-scenes processes for grocery stores?

(06:25) Have you seen any change in demand as a result of COVID-19?

(07:01) How have recent technological changes lent to a solution like this becoming possible?

(08:24) What is the role of edge computing in the smart store?

(09:49) How does all of this work for a grocery store that has multiple locations? Especially when looking at the amount of data stored and managed at the edge?

(10:39) Can you speak a little to the importance and the rise in contactless payment, and how that plays into the features of a smart store?

(11:42) How is computer vision important to the user experience side?

(12:15) How do you address concerns about increased theft?

(14:25) What’s the main problem your customers are trying to solve?

(15:18) How do you address concerns about the elimination of jobs out of grocery stores?

(16:35) At a high level, what does the future of IoT look like with computer vision as it becomes more widely adopted?

(19:04) What does a typical customer engagement look like?

(22:12) What are the greatest challenges you face during a deployment?

(24:53) How much is machine learning coming into play in a system like this?

(26:12) Any upcoming news at Grabango?

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