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Alibaba demonstrates face recognition system at cashier-less concept café


Alibaba Group demonstrated a facial recognition-powered, cashier-less coffee shop earlier this month at its second Taobao Maker Festival, according to a report by Technode.

Using Alibaba’s AI and data technologies, Tao Café invited customers to shop at the offline store without having to wait in queues to pay for drinks or food.

The café had a few employees on hand to prepare the food and drinks, however, no cashiers were required as all transactions were done digitally.

A customer could walk up to the counter and order an Americano, which prompted the system to scan her face through the screen and withdraw the price of the coffee from her Alipay account.

“Alibaba is a maker by itself. We would like to share the latest thinking through technology,” said Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba Group. “Last year, we showed VR shopping through Buy+. This year we launched Tao Café, to introduce the new offline experience. We want to bring Alibaba experience to support retail brands, to run the operation with our data capability. It’s about digitizing the footprint of the digital store and optimizing the shopping experience.”

Alibaba has been making considerable effort in the “new retail” space to integrate online and offline commerce.

As part of this strategy, Alibaba founded Hema (Hemaxiansheng) in 2015 to enable the cashless checkout process, as well as partnered with Bailian Group to introduce a new retail supermarket called RISO in Shanghai.

“Online experience is shown differently because we personalize the web page for customers,” Tung said. “Offline has always been the same, and we believe offline should be more exciting. You have to integrate the data to enhance the in-store experience.”

Alibaba said it has no plans to open a cafe, and that the demonstration was intended to merely show potential applications of facial recognition technology for retail stores.

Earlier this year Alibaba announced plans to establish independent research and development teams to ramp up core technologies that support its goal of serving two billion people in the future.

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