Amazon to test Dash Cart, a smart grocery shopping cart that sees what you buy

Amazon today introduced the latest in smart store tech with the introduction of the Amazon Dash Cart, a grocery store shopping cart that identifies then charges you for the items you place inside its basket. The cart will first be made available at the Amazon grocery store opening in Woodland Hills, California later this year, the retailer says.

The cart today isn’t meant for your standard grocery shopping trip where you’re stocking up. Instead, Amazon explains, the smart cart can handle small-to-medium sized grocery trips of 2 bags or fewer.

This has to do with how the technology works to identify the items in the cart’s basket.

The Amazon Dash Cart uses a combination of computer vision algorithms and sensor fusion to identify the items in the cart, says Amazon. Then, when you exit through the Dash Cart lane in the store, sensors automatically identify the cart and your payment is processed using the credit card you have on file with your Amazon account.

To start using the cart, you’ll scan a QR code in the Amazon app with the reader on the cart. You then place your one or two bags in the cart and begin shopping. As you add items in the cart, you’ll need to wait to hear a beep. If the cart turns orange, it wasn’t able to read the item and you’ll need to try again.

In addition to the sensor tech, the cart has a screen at the top that allows customers to access their Alexa Shopping List and check things off, as well as view their current subtotal. The cart will also be equipped with coupon scanner where you can apply the coupons as you shop.

Based on the video Amazon provided (and very little specific detail), the cart did seem to require the product’s barcode to be visible. In one frame of the video, for example, the shopper uncovers the barcode with their finger before adding the item to the cart. The video also shows products with the barcode facing the shopper and the cart’s screen, when being loaded.

In another section, the video explains how to “add items without a barcode,” like produce. In this case, the shopper types in the PLU number on the screen and confirms the weight.

Amazon’s website doesn’t detail how barcode reading is involved, but says the cart is using “computer vision algorithms” and “sensor fusion.” That seems to imply the smart cart is the next step beyond Amazon’s existing technology, “Just Walk Out,” which is used across its Amazon Go stores. But with “Just Walk Out, the stores are using computer vision through camera-mounted systems alongside shelf sensor tech to identify when products are taken or returned to store shelves. The Dash Cart, meanwhile, will be tested at a regular grocery store — not an Amazon Go store.

While clearly the cart is not just a barcode scanner on wheels, Amazon’s website wasn’t being fully transparent about the technology’s use of barcode reading.

We also asked Amazon to further detail how its new technology works and were told that the cart does, in fact, “first look for a barcode to quickly identify the product.”

However, if the barcode is obstructed — for example, by the customer’s hand — the computer vision algorithms will then try to identify the object instead.

Bringing Just Walk Out technology to a grocery store would be extremely challenging compared with an Amazon Go store, which is a convenience store in size. Grocery stores have more items the cart would need to be able to identify and new products become available all the time, as well.

Amazon announced in March it would begin selling its cashierless store technology to other retailers. Likely, it has similar plans for its smart cart, once the technology is tested and improved. Amazon declined to speak to its future plans, when asked.