New Amazon technology, introduced at two Amazon Go stores this week, lets shoppers pay for purchases by holding their hands over a scanner. The system, called Amazon One, may herald a new way of identifying yourself and paying for things that could change the way people shop, enter concerts, use public transportation, and many other things.
You’ve probably used a fingerprint scanner or facial recognition to unlock your smartphone. You already know that your voice and your retinas can be used to positively identify you and give you access to your various devices, and possibly to secure government or corporate facilities. Amazon’s new Amazon One technology takes biometrics a step further by allowing shoppers to pay for purchases with a simple scan of their palms.
To stave off privacy concerns, the company says it is encrypting biometric data before storing it in the cloud, and that the data will be deleted from the cloud at the customer’s request. An Amazon executive told GeekWire that the company had deliberately chosen users’ palms as a biometric identifier because people can’t be recognized from their palms the way they can from their faces. (Amazon has faced controversy over law enforcement use of its facial scanning technology and has suspended such use for one year.) Another benefit is that the user must choose to hover his or her hand over the scanner, meaning that users can’t be scanned without their knowledge or consent.
GeekWire’s Todd Bishop tried Amazon One out at Seattle’s Amazon Go stores and found that his shopping experience was incredibly fast. As the company promised, it took less than a minute to set up the scan of his palm at a small kiosk, linking it with his credit card and mobile number. Amazon Go stores have no cash registers so there’s no place to wait in line. With no need to even pull out a phone (which is how shoppers traditionally gain access to Amazon Go stores and then pay for their purchases on the way out) there was literally nothing to slow him down; all he had to do was hover his hand over a scanner to pay for his drink. “Going from storefront to shelf to sidewalk easily took less than a minute,” he writes. If he hadn’t stopped to snap a few pictures, chat with the security guard, and hesitate over which sparkling water to buy, it could easily have been 15 seconds, he adds. “Given the state of the family refrigerator sometimes, if there were a convenience store with this technology close to my house, it could actually be faster to retrieve an item from one of its shelves than to find it on one of ours.”
Paying with your palm as a proof-of-concept at a couple of futuristic convenience stores may not seem like such a big deal, but it’s easy to see the future potential of this technology, which Amazon is already offering to other companies. Imagine the convenience of simply using your palm to board an airplane, enter an event, pay for your groceries, or identify yourself at your workplace. One obvious place it could appear soon is at your local Whole Foods market, since Amazon owns Whole Foods. Despite reports that Amazon One is in the plans for Whole Foods, the company has so far declined to say whether it will be introduced in those stores.
Amazon Go is itself a proof-of-concept store — once you scan yourself in, you pick up whatever you want and walk out and the system charges you automatically. And Amazon has also offered that technology to other companies. Widespread adoption of Amazon Go technology will be challenging, though, because it depends on a store-wide array of cameras and sensors that track every shopper and every item as it is removed from the shelf or put back there. Amazon One, which requires only a scanning device, would be a lot easier to deploy. That means you may find yourself paying for things with your palm sooner than you might think.