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Shelf-monitoring device
Xnor.ai’s shelf-monitoring system can provide alerts about out-of-stock items. (Xnor.ai Photo via Twitter)

Artificial intelligence is coming to a grocery store shelf near you.

Xnor.ai, a spin-out from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has been working with partners on low-cost, low-power AI monitoring devices, including a camera with the ability to detect when a person steps in front of a webcam.

Now the startup is unveiling a wireless device that’s designed to be clipped onto a retail shelf and send out an alert when the store is running low on a particular item.

The beta demonstration is due to take place this weekend in Las Vegas at Groceryshop, a trade show for the grocery industry:

The key to Xnor’s edge technology is a chip that can run AI software on mere milliwatts of power, so that a coin-sized battery could theoretically keep the chip running for 30 years. The system takes advantage of low-power wireless technologies such as Narrowband IoT and LoRa.

Xnor isn’t the first company to get into the smart-shelf market: Several companies have fielded gizmos to keep track of store inventory on the shelf. Intel has partnered with a couple of companies on such AI systems, including Redmond, Wash.-based AVA Retail. The Kroger grocery-store chain has a system called Kroger EDGE that makes use of Microsoft Azure cloud computing. And for what it’s worth, the checkout-less Amazon Go stores use computer vision and other AI tools to track inventory as well as purchases.

Speaking of Amazon, the online retail giant happens to hold a patent for an AI-enabled system that could someday check the inventory in your own refrigerator – and send you an alert when food goes bad. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine the AI agent in your kitchen ordering groceries from the AI agent at the supermarket, for delivery by an autonomous drone.

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