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Amazon Lays Off Nearly All ‘Just Walk Out’ Engineers, Pulls Tech From Grocery Stores

As Amazon pulls the plug on its Just Walk Out technology in larger grocery stores, concerns mount over the future of automated retail, while the laid-off engineers grapple with uncertainty about their roles in the company

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Amazon has pulled its Just Walk Out technology from its grocery stores earlier this week, resulting in the layoff of nearly all the engineers working on the project. The company, which operates over 130 convenience stores and some Amazon Go locations, will continue to use the technology in these smaller outlets. However, the decision to remove the technology from larger grocery stores has left only a skeleton crew to maintain its future development.

Just Walk Out, introduced by Amazon in 2016, is an innovative technology that uses cameras and sensors to track the items customers purchase, eliminating the need for traditional checkout processes. The system has been implemented in various locations, including Amazon Go convenience stores, sports stadiums, and third-party retailers.

According to a senior team member who was among those laid off on Wednesday, dozens of Just Walk Out employees were impacted by the layoffs. This move has raised concerns about the future of the technology and the hundreds of locations that currently rely on it.

An Amazon spokesperson stated, “We are committed to Just Walk Out technology and will continue to invest in both our people and technology.” However, the company did not provide clarification on the exact number of Just Walk Out employees affected by the layoffs.

Insiders reveal that Amazon had been planning to remove Just Walk Out from its Fresh grocery stores for approximately a year before the layoffs. The technology proved to be too expensive and complex to operate in large retail locations, but it seemed to be more suitable for smaller convenience stores, which involve fewer products and customers, making them easier to automate.

Despite Amazon’s claims that they will open more Just Walk Out stores in 2024 than any previous year, the team responsible for developing the technology has been largely disbanded, leaving many blindsided by the decision.

The layoffs have also brought to light some of the challenges faced by the Just Walk Out technology. The system never became truly autonomous, relying heavily on a team of human reviewers to label and verify purchases that the computers could not process accurately. While the percentage of purchases requiring human review has decreased over time, it still remains higher than Amazon’s internal goals.

Additionally, the sensors developed by the Just Walk Out team, while more reliable than cameras, proved to be too expensive. Despite efforts to reduce the cost of a single sensor to $100, the engineering team could only bring it down to $350.

The scaling back of Amazon’s automated retail aspirations has led some industry experts to question the feasibility of fully unstaffed grocery stores with current technology. Other companies in the automated retail space have focused on smaller convenience stores, where the number of products purchased is typically limited, allowing for a higher degree of accuracy and a more practical implementation of the technology.

While Amazon’s decision to dissolve its internal Just Walk Out engineering team may not be viewed as a failure by the company itself, it is difficult to see it as anything else. The layoffs and the challenges faced by the technology suggest that Amazon may be reassessing its ambitious plans for automated retail.

As the industry continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how Amazon and other players in the automated retail space will adapt and innovate to overcome the current limitations of the technology. Despite the setbacks, the potential for automation in the retail sector is still significant, and it is likely that companies will continue to invest in and refine these technologies in the years to come.

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