Unmanned Grocery Stores


Unmanned Grocery Store

These days grocery stores are facing many challenges, like high maintenance costs, price competition with online stores, and limited business hours. All of these issues can be solved with unmanned grocery stores.

As early as January 2016, the first unmanned grocery opened in Switzerland. It’s not just a concept store anymore. In this store customers can simply use their cellphones to unlock the door. A swipe of the finger and scanning a barcode is all they need to do in order to complete a purchase with their account. They can also choose to be charged for their purchases via monthly invoice.

With this shopping model users are leveraging iOS and Android apps. The backend is just a normal web application (user registration and database). The tech-stack is simple, but it can help people in sparsely populated areas.

In June of 2017, Alibaba, the largest online company in China, opened Tao Cafe as a no-cashier cafe. Here customers can place their order without having to wait for a cashier. Just like the store in Switzerland, users need to have Alibaba’s app and a registered account. To open the door a user just needs to scan the QR code with the app. This step will allow the system to identify their account and their Face ID. When customers shop, the system can get correct data about the customer’s wait time. It can also track a customer’s movement while they shop within the store.

— Scan QR code to enter (image from internet)

— Waiting for coffee with order remain time (image from internet)

To finish shopping, customers simply pass through two doors. The first is for charging from their account, the other is the store’s exit. When a customer enters the first door, the shop’s server will start computing the amount to charge the customer. In this step, the customer is not required to scan items or phones. The store’s server uses face recognition technology to figure out the right account. After a successful checkout the exit door will open. If an unrecognizable customer enters, the system will ring the alarm and notify security.

After the success of Tao Cafe, a similar store has popped up called Bingo Box. It’s an unmanned convenience store that only contains packaged food. To shop there, a registered Wechat account and Face ID are required. Wechat is a multi-functional chat app. It’s also the hottest app in China. You can read my last blog post to get more information. In order to enter the store for the first time, customers need to scan a QR code and their face. Later on they only need to scan their face by standing in front of the door to get in. It doesn’t matter if customers are waring makeup, hats or masks (not a costume mask, sorry) the system can still recognize them and open the door. Also, if unregistered users are detected in store, the alarm will ring and notify security.

— Notifying security (image from internet)

Customers shop by taking whatever goods they want and pay by placing all items onto the checkout board. The checkout board is a scanner that scans RFID tags on items so that all items can be scanned and cashed out at the same time. A receipt will automatically be sent to customers’ Wechat and funds will be charged to their Wechat accounts. If customers miss paying for any items a scanner on the exit door will detect it and sound the alarm.

— Checking out by scanning items on board and paying by Wechat (image from internet)

Bingo Box is not only a shop that brings convenience to customers, but also to merchants. Since RFID tags are on the packages, it’s easy to get all the information about inventory by scanning the whole rack at once. It’s much faster than the traditional way, counting items one by one manually to find out what items need to be added or rearranged. The new technology effectively cuts the time and number of people needed to run the business.

— Shelves management

Besides the unmanned stores mentioned above, Amazon Go is supposed to be coming very soon. It is planned to be very different from the stores discussed already though. Customers will only need to scan a QR code to enter. The checkout process is simply exiting the store. Items that customers take out of the store will be billed to their Amazon account. Behind this simple shopping experience is a series of extremely complicated calculations. After watching the video of how Amazon Go works, it can be assumed that its system is very powerful. Facial recognition and bluetooth tracking with each customer’s cell phone identifies and tracks the location of customers throughout the store. The amount of money to charge a customer is tracked in real-time based on items that they remove from shelves, the system can even calculate the correct price for items that are priced based on weight. If a customer puts an item back in the wrong place the store can tell that they no longer have the item and will remove it from the customer’s “cart”.

Even though unmanned grocery stores may lead to fewer retail jobs, they have many advantages that cannot be ignored. Unlimited business hours, remote/rural locations, efficient supply chain management, shelf management and warehouse management help create a higher profit with more convenience for the customer. These are just some of the factors driving the innovation of unmanned grocery stores.

Introduction to Mobile Cloud Platforms


If you are building a mobile application of any sophistication, you are likely to need some services to support your app. You’ll need a way to distribute your app for testing prior to submitting to the app store(s), as well as analytics, error logging, crash reporting, and possibly user and data management services. Of course, you could write these services yourself and provision servers to host these services, but why do that when you don’t have to?

Mobile App Development: Native vs Hybrid


Your company needs a mobile app and you want to save money (of course). You want the app live last week, and you’d really like to avoid hiring Android and iOS devs on top of your existing web team.

In light of these considerations, going the hybrid route looks like a pretty good option. Hybrid mobile apps promise to be cheaper and faster to develop, and they’re built with tried and true technologies like Javascript, HTML, and CSS. The hybrid sales pitch can be summarized as “one codebase for multiple platforms”. Hybrid platforms include React Native, PhoneGap, Ionic, Titanium, and others.

Meet Kotlin


Kotlin is a JVM language that hit version 1.0 about a year ago (February 2016).
It is developed by JetBrains, the same people who make my favorite suite of
IDEs. The language itself is open-source under the Apache License 2.0 and is
developed as a community project over at kotlinlang.org. Kotlin is something
that I have become rather excited about over the past year. This post’s goal is
not to teach you Kotlin but to get you excited about it!

What is Pixel Density and Why Should You Care?


Pixel density is the number of pixels per linear physical unit. Measured in pixels per inch (ppi or dpi). Pixel density and resolution are technically the same thing, but often people say “resolution” to mean “pixel count,” a related metric:

count = densityH * width * densityV * height

When other things are held constant:

6 Steps to Improve App Search Rankings


Working as developers, we are focused on the low level technical details of a product, being that a website or an app. This heads down approach often makes us not to pay attention to many high level details that are crucial to bring our product to success. The typical path for a developer, at least at the beginning, is to build an app, put it on the store and then see it fail miserably. If that has happened to your app, then this post is for you!

Introduction to React Native


React Native underlines a JavaScript framework used in writing real and natively rendering mobile applications for Android and iOS. The framework is based on React, which is Facebook’s JavaScript library used in building interfaces for web applications. Building a mobile application using javascript isn’t anything new. The similar technique has been used in frameworks such as Ionic, Sencha Touch, Phone Gap, Cordova, and the list goes on.

Building Android Apps with MVVM and Data Binding


Great Design Pattern for Great Work

Most app development cannot avoid being composed of three parts: database/model, UI and the business logic associated with them.  There are already many design patterns that allow for more structured communications between model and UI; for example, MVP and MVC.

Late Subscribing and Polling APIs with RxAndroid


Howdy, lazy bum! Enjoying the ReactiveX magic? Want to take a look at polling?

I’ll be walking you through a solution I put together for one of our up and coming apps! It works rather well, I learned a lot, and so far no complaints…although there are no users yet either!

Feeling quite charitable, I’m going to let you in on some useful bits and pieces as we build up to polling: threading, late subscribing, replay, manual re-triggering and error handling (a must for preserving replays).

Android Tip: adb reverse


I work from all over the place: Home, on public transit, the office, coffee shops, etc.

A big challenge to developing android apps in an environment where my laptop and phone are on different networks (wifi vs. LTE, or laptop tethered through phone) is the inability for my phone to see the API server that is often running locally on my laptop. Here is a simple tip to allow your phone to hit the backend over ADB and a usb cable.