A fresh capital injection of $60 million last week and pacts with four of the world’s largest grocery retailers form the springboard to put Trigo’s cashier-free checkout system into thousands of stores, says Michael Gabay, CEO of the computer vision company.
In what period of time? “A few years,” Gabay tells me. “Not too many years,” he adds in an understated tone one uses while removing lint from a lapel.
Gabay’s low-key manner stands in stark contrast to the buzz around the Tel Aviv startup he co-founded in 2017 with brother Daniel Gabay, Trigo CTO and 2020 Forbes 30Under30 honoree. Trigo’s latest Series B funding round, led by 83North, brings total funding to $94 million and includes existing investors Vertex Ventures Israel, Hetz Ventures, Red Dot Capital Partners, British supermarket chain Tesco and Morrag Investments.
The new capital will fuel R&D and geographic expansion of its artificial intelligence-driven cashierless shopping platform. Store operations applications on the horizon include predictive inventory management, pricing optimization, planogram management for merchandise display, security and fraud prevention, in-store analytics and event-driven marketing.
Without identifying supermarkets that will deploy the cashierless checkout system, called Easyout, Michael Gabay said Trigo is currently working with four tier 1 companies, including Tesco, one of the world’s largest grocers with stores across the United Kingdom, Ireland, Central Europe and Asia.
Tesco declined comment beyond a statement from Tesco CTO Guus Dekkers who said, “We’re delighted to be working with Trigo as they continue to grow their business. Together, we have made great progress testing the frictionless checkout solution in our trial store in Welwyn Garden City and we are excited by this technology and the opportunities it brings.”
The 3,000-square-foot trial store is located at Tesco headquarters, about 20 miles from London. In addition to Tesco, the Trigo system has been tested in Shufersal, Israel’s largest retailer with more than $3 billion (U.S.) annual revenue. In 2018, Shufersal struck an agreement to retrofit 272 stores with Trigo’s system over time.
Trigo’s cashierless platform is often likened to that deployed in the Amazon Go
“When people don’t think about the [checkout] line, that aspect of the store, the whole experience is better,” Gabay says. “There is more time to spend in front of the product and you enjoy the journey more when you know you don’t have the traffic jam at the cash register.”
A number of other players are developing technology in this space to compete with Amazon Go cashierless checkout including Grabango, Zippin, Standard Cognition and Portugal’s Sensei, among others. A closer look at Trigo’s platform reveals how it differs from Amazon’s:
Commodity hardware: inexpensive ceiling-mounted video cameras and sensors—rather than proprietary hardware—enable existing physical stores to be retrofitted cost-effectively with Trigo’s system. Some platforms, like Amazon’s, involve new store construction to accommodate proprietary technology infrastructure, Gabay explains.
Cameras and sensors follow customer movement inside the store, tracking items removed from and replaced to shelves as shoppers make their selections. Trigo smart scales are integrated with computer vision to identify and record weights of loose produce items, like an apple or potato, and add to the running tally of a customer’s purchases.
Trigo’s use of low-cost, off-the-shelf hardware enables retailers to scale quickly across numerous existing locations, putting ROI at “roughly one year,” Gabay says.
Privacy design: Unlike Amazon One’s palm biometrics or “pay with your face” technology from China’s Alipay and WeChat, the Trigo platform does not employ biometric technology to identify individual shoppers. Instead, Trigo links each shopper to a unique, anonymous ID number assigned upon entry to the store.
“We don’t do any facial recognition,” Gabay explains. “We do the opposite of that. We blur faces” in images captured by overhead cameras. “It would be much easier for us not to blur faces and to do some biometric recognition.” Trigo’s platform does not collect or store data about shoppers and is compliant with GDPR, the European Union’s privacy and data protection law.
Gabay is not one to deride the Amazon Go cashierless shopping experience. “It’s fascinating. I mean: It’s great,” he says. “The retailers we are working with are not going to [accept] anything less. They want to have at least the customer experience Amazon has, or even better.”
A chief difference between the two platforms, he says, is that Amazon built stores around its technology while Trigo built technology to retrofit into existing stores.
“In our case, we are coming to retailers that already have the best real estate in the city, already have their employees who can operate and manage those stores. We only need to come in with the technology. The potential scale in our case is much bigger,” Gabay says. “And it could be much faster.”
Futurist Thornton May is cofounder of The Digital Value Institute think tank and has been called “one of the top 50 brains in technology” by Fast Company editors. Asked his take on cashierless technology and computer vision startups like Trigo, May replied:
“Cashierless transactions are the natural next step in the continual digital transformation of the retail environment,” he told me. “This means Trigo is perfectly placed for the immediate and intermediate future.” May does not have a financial interest in Trigo.
“Every retailer has to have a strategy for Amazon: How do I play with them; how do I position myself vis-à-vis them; where and when will our strategic trajectories intersect,” May adds. “Partnering with Trigo is a cost-effective way to match Amazon on the innovation front.”
It’s no surprise that innovation in cashierless checkout is sourced to Israel, says Moshe Rubinstein, PhD, world-renowned authority on problem-solving and creativity. Author of several books, including “The Minding Organization,” Rubinstein is professor emeritus at UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science where he worked 55 years.
“Israel is a center of sparks that become amazing developments that you and I are benefiting from,” he told me Monday in an interview from his home near UCLA’s campus. Technological innovation and entrepreneurial humility are baked into the culture of this small country of 9 million people, he said, pointing to 2009 best-seller “Start-up Nation” that examines how Israel earned the moniker Silicon Wadi.
Rubinstein explained how his nephew and other academically gifted Israeli young men and women are selected by the Israel Defense Forces while still in high school and furnished special training to develop their skills.
Indeed, Trigo co-founders Michael Gabay and Daniel Gabay are among those recruited to the elite Talpiot Israel Defense Forces military program and intelligence unit, which develops artificial intelligence technologies.
Technology giants Apple
Thornton says Israeli engineers and entrepreneurs have a solid understanding of security, a key to the future of e-commerce and “Trigo has good cred in this space.”
“Longer term,” May posits, “Amazon may end up buying Trigo.”