Amazon Amazon Invests in Artificial Intelligence Research in Germany

Lisa Byfield-Green (Senior Retail Analyst)
24 October 2017
Visual systems, robotics and machine learning will help to enhance the customer experience of the future.
Amazon Germany
Visual systems, robotics and machine learning will help to enhance the customer experience of the future.

Amazon has announced that it is investing EUR1.25mn to finance a new Amazon research centre in southern Germany, focused on artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the customer experience.

The centre will be based near the campus of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen and create more than 100 jobs in the artificial intelligence field over the next five years. The move comes as Amazon joins a technology research group known as Cyber Valley, supported by the Max Planck Institute as well as companies including BMW, Bosch, Daimler and Porsche. Key initiatives for the group are robotics, machine learning and machine vision. 

Ralf Herbrich, Director of Machine Learning at Amazon and Managing Director of the Amazon Development Centre, Germany, said: “With our Amazon Research centre in Tübingen, we will become part of one of the largest research initiatives in Europe in the area of artificial intelligence. This underlines our commitment to create highly skilled jobs in breakthrough technologies.” 

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Lisa Byfield-Green (Senior Retail Analyst)
Lisa Byfield-Green (Senior Retail Analyst)

Opinion An Intelligent Future

24 October 2017

Unique among retailers, Amazon is also a leading innovator and technology company with a long-term vision. This latest investment gives us some insight into what lies ahead in retail over the next few years.

As what used to be considered science fiction is rapidly becoming reality, artificial intelligence is an increasingly important area of investment for those wishing to stay ahead. Driverless cars are now a reality. Amazon's investment into AI is not new, even if it is new to Europe. In Seattle its Amazon Go checkoutless shopping pilot uses similar AI technology to that used in driverless vehicles: computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning to detect when products are taken from or returned to the shelves. Items are kept track of in a virtual cart and the shopper is invoiced when they walk out of the store. Although still in pilot phase, the potential that technology has to enhance the shopper experience both online and in physical stores is immense.

With technology improving and more devices now in consumers’ hands, virtual reality is also becoming more mainstream. A demo for the Oculus Rift as long ago as 2014 bizarrely included a virtual tour around the aisles of a Tesco supermarket. Compared to two-dimensional websites, virtual stores can engage shoppers in a 3D experience where they can walk around and try products, giving them the sensation of ‘real world’ interactions. This was successfully proven last November by Alibaba in China, which leveraged VR during Singles Day to allow users of its Taobao app to walk around a version of a Macy’s New York department store, interacting with products and placing items into their shopping carts to buy. Target and Costco have worked with Alibaba on similar initiatives. This technology will continue to get smarter.

Using AI to learn about our interactions in order to be able to personalise experiences has significant implications in retail. The centre at Tübingen will focus on computer vision, working to develop powerful systems for facial recognition and the interpretation of body postures. This has implications both online and offline, and as AI becomes ever more advanced we can begin to look forward to a future that makes everyday shopping experiences frictionless, interactive and perhaps even fun. Naturally, this is a vision that we can expect only a handful of retailers including Amazon, Alibaba and Walmart to lead within the retail world, but with increased focus in this area there is no doubt it will impact shopper expectations and that others will follow.

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