Snack Shacks: Startup Shows Off Self-Service Stores

AiFi presents its automated retail stores at GTC 2019.
by Scott Martin

A credit card swipe gets you into the checkout-free miniature convenience store. After that, just grab Oreos, Pringles or other munchies, check your receipt and go.

Startup AiFi presented its automated retail store, dubbed the NanoStore, at the GPU Technology Conference this week.

The Silicon Valley-based company uses image recognition powered by a single NVIDIA T4 GPU to automatically capture customers’ shopping items and charge them.

AiFi — an NVIDIA Inception winner last year — is now in pilot tests with its NanoStores and offers its store technology to retailers of all sizes.

The NVIDIA Inception program is a virtual accelerator that helps startups get to market faster.

AiFi’s NanoStores are built into a shipping container that can hold more than 500 different products. The NanoStore concept fills a niche in the market between a vending machine and a convenience store, said co-founder and CEO Steve Gu.

“There’s a gap between vending machines and convenience stores. We believe this will be the next big thing,” said Gu.

Snack Tracking

NanoStores pack cameras inside to capture a customer’s merchandise choices, which are identified by AiFi’s image recognition algorithms and then put on the tab.

It’s not easy to recognize the merchandise and connect it with the customer, and the startup continues to work on this, Gu said.

Detecting more than 500 different products was made easier by using 3D simulations. That made it possible to create about thousands of images from different angles for each product to refine their training set.

Training time was accelerated by using workstations sporting NVIDIA TITAN series GPUs, Gu said.

NanoStore Pilots

AiFi’s NanoStore offers retailers an easy way to try out a fully automated store that is always open, extending hours and sales, Gu told attendees of his GTC talk.

“It creates a new line of business for convenience stores.”

The company is working with Valora, based in Switzerland, on a pilot of its NanoStores located at European railway stations. The startup is also working on a pilot with Carrefour, a French retail giant with more than 12,000 stores, for its technology.

Closer to home, AiFi is in discussions with some universities to place pilots of its NanoStores, which could operate 24/7 on their campuses.

“Students never sleep and neither does the NanoStore,” Gu said.