Saltagen-backed Startup, Black.ai, Raises $1.2 Million from Investors

Check out this excerpt for their latest feature in the Financial Review:

“This Melbourne startup can tell if you ring up your expensive knob of ginger as a potato at the self-service checkout has raised $1.2 million from investors [including Joseph Fung of Saltagen Ventures] and the inventor of the artificial intelligence inside Amazon’s “Alexa” virtual assistant.

Black.ai has been trialing its system of connected sensors and cameras at a major supermarket chain — co-founder Keaton Okkonen won’t say which one — with the aim of eventually allowing it to dispense with cashiers and in-store detectives, and allowing it to automate functions like ordering new stock from a distribution centre.

While the technology to run a cashier-less supermarket already exists — Amazon is reportedly planning 3000 of its no-checkout AmazonGO stores by 2021 — Mr Okkonen claimed Black.ai’s ability to share data between its “seeing computers” would bring down the cost of store automation and further accelerate its deployment.

“If you’ve got a fleet of robots that can all plug into an information layer and share what they’re seeing, you’re able to place cheaper, lower-resolution sensors in each one,” he said.

Black.ai is also pointing its algorithms at a growing problem faced by supermarkets since they replaced many of their human cashiers with self-service checkouts — “stock bleed”, as Mr Okkonen diplomatically called it, which occurs most among unpackaged, non-barcoded items like fruit and vegetables.

“In trials we’ve done, we’ve already successfully identified somebody grabbing an organic avocado, then entering it as a regular avocado at the checkout,” he said.

This was not down to hyper-advanced image recognition, but Black.ai’s prior tagging of the separate displays for organic and regular avocados, and its system’s ability to detect a hand entering one of those areas and leaving it holding an item.

In such a scenario, Black.ai would prefer its system to be preventive than punitive, Mr Okkonen said.

“We’re not going to drop a cage on you if you incorrectly ring up the cheaper fruit, we want to give you the benefit of the doubt,” he said.

“If a store we’re in is not fully cashier-less yet, we’ll be able to suggest to customers the item we think they should be entering.”

To read more, visit: https://www.afr.com/technology/supermarket-automator-blackai-backed-by-alexa-inventor-william-tunstallpedoe-20180924-h15tbg