AI Slam Dunk: Startup’s Checkout-Free Stores Provide Stadiums Fast Refreshments

Zippin's checkout-free stores are helping basketball and football fans stay out of the crowds and not miss the action.
by Scott Martin

With live sports making a comeback, one thing remains a constant: Nobody likes to miss big plays while waiting in line for a cold drink or snack.

Zippin offers sports fans checkout-free refreshments, and it’s racking up wins among stadiums as well as retailers, hotels, apartments and offices. The startup, based in San Francisco, develops image-recognition models that run on the NVIDIA Jetson edge AI platform to help track customer purchases.

People can simply enter their credit card details into the company’s app, scan into a Zippin-driven store, grab a cold one and any snacks, and go. Their receipt is available in the app afterwards. Customers can also bypass the app and simply use a credit card to enter the stores and Zippin automatically keeps track of their purchases and charges them.

“We don’t want fans to be stuck waiting in line,” said Motilal Agrawal, co-founder and chief scientist at Zippin.

As sports and entertainment venues begin to reopen in limited capacities, Zippin’s grab-and-go stores are offering quicker shopping and better social distancing without checkout lines.

Zippin is a member of NVIDIA Inception, a virtual accelerator program that helps startups in AI and data science get to market faster. “The Inception team met with us, loaned us our first NVIDIA GPU and gave us guidance on NVIDIA SDKs for our application,” he said.

Streak of Stadiums

Zippin has launched in three stadiums so far, all in the U.S. It’s in negotiations to develop checkout-free shopping for several other major sports venues in the country.

In March, the San Antonio Spurs’ AT&T Center reopened with limited capacity for the NBA season, unveiling a Zippin-enabled Drink MKT beverage store. Basketball fans can scan in with the Zippin mobile app or use their credit card, grab drinks and go. Cameras and shelves with scales identify purchases to automatically charge customers.

The debut in San Antonio comes after Zippin came to Mile High Stadium, in Denver, in November, for limited capacity Broncos games. Before that, Zippin unveiled its first stadium, the Golden 1 Center, in Sacramento. It allows customers to purchase popcorn, draft beer and other snacks and drinks and is open for Sacramento Kings basketball games and concerts.

“Our mission is to accelerate the adoption of checkout-free stores, and sporting venues are the ideal location to benefit from our approach,” Agrawal said.

Zippin Store Advances  

In addition to stadiums, Zippin has launched stores within stores for grab-and-go food and beverages in Lojas Americanas, a large retail chain in Brazil.

In Russia, the startup has put a store within a store inside an Azbuka Vkusa supermarket chain store located in Moscow. Zippin is also in Japan, where it has a pilot store in Tokyo with Lawson, a convenience store chain in an office location and another store within the Yokohama Techno Tower Hotel.

As an added benefit for retailers, Zippin’s platform can track products to help automate inventory management.

“We provide a retailer dashboard to see how much inventory there is for each individual item and which items have run low on stock. We can help to know exactly how much is in the store — all these detailed analytics are part of our offering,” Agrawal said.

Jetson Processing

Zippin relies on the NVIDIA Jetson AI platform for inference at 30 frames per second for its models, enabling split-second decisions on customer purchases. The application’s processing speed means it can keep up with a crowded store.

The company runs convolutional neural networks for product identification and store location identification to help track customer purchases. Also, using Zippin’s retail implementations, stores utilize smart shelves to determine whether a product was removed or replaced on a shelf.

The NVIDIA edge AI-driven platform can then process the shelf data and the video data together — sensor fusion — to determine almost instantly who grabbed what.

“It can deploy and work effectively on two out of three sensors (visual, weight and location) and then figure out the products on the fly, with training ongoing in action in deployment to improve the system,” said Agrawal.