Amazon Tests Palm Biometrics for Retail Transactions

Amazon Tests Palm Biometrics for Retail Transactions
Using the Amazon One reader, users can leave behind payment cards in favor of palm biometrics.

Talk to the hand — that silly phrase could take on new meaning in food and other forms of retail, thanks to Amazon’s latest effort involving biometrics.

On Tuesday, Sept. 29, Amazon debuted its “Amazon One” biometric payments and authentication tool, among the latest technologies designed to remove friction from food and other parts of retail.

According to Dilip Kumar, the company’s VP, physical retail and technology, Amazon One “is a fast, convenient, contactless way for people to use their palm to make everyday activities like paying at a store, presenting a loyalty card, entering a location like a stadium or badging into work more effortless. The service is designed to be highly secure and uses custom-built algorithms and hardware to create a person’s unique palm signature.”

Palms, not Payment Cards

The idea is to analyze the various parts of a person’s palm — lines and ridges, for instance — and use that as a secure digital signature to enable payments and other tasks. That would free the customer from pulling out a payment card — or cash — to pay for purchases, and potentially add efficiency in the retail checkout process. Loyalty, the close sibling to payments, could be made easier as well.

“We’ll start in select Amazon Go stores, where Amazon One will be added to the store’s entry gate as a convenient choice for customers to use to enter the store to shop,” Kumar said. “In most retail environments, Amazon One could become an alternate payment or loyalty card option, with a device at the checkout counter next to a traditional point-of-sale system.”

As of Sept. 29, customers at two Amazon Go stores in Seattle — the original Amazon Go store at 7th and Blanchard, as well as a location in the South Lake Union neighborhood at 300 Boren Avenue North — can use Amazon One.

Amazon One Process

Customers need less than a minute to sign up for Amazon One at those stores, according to Kumar.

From a consumer point of view, the process goes like this:

  • Insert your credit card.
  • Hover your palm over the device, and follow the prompts to associate that card with the unique palm signature being built by Amazon’s computer vision technology in real time.
  • You’ll have the option to enroll with just one palm or both.
  • You’re now signed up.

Once enrolled, consumers can use Amazon One to enter these Amazon Go stores by holding a palm above the Amazon One device at entry for about a second or so.

Assuming the biometric tool works, other retail uses are in the works.

Beyond Amazon Go, we expect to add Amazon One as an option in additional Amazon stores in the coming months,” Kumar said. “And we believe Amazon One has broad applicability beyond our retail stores, so we also plan to offer the service to third parties like retailers, stadiums and office buildings so that more people can benefit from this ease and convenience in more places.”

Benefits of Palm Biometrics

So why did Amazon decide to focus on palm recognition for Amazon One?

After all, facial recognition is on the rise for various consumer uses — including some that involve payments and transactions — and Amazon is no stranger to that form of biometric authentication.

“One reason was that palm recognition is considered more private than some biometric alternatives, because you can’t determine a person’s identity by looking at an image of their palm,” Kumar explained. “It also requires someone to make an intentional gesture by holding their palm over the device to use. And it’s contactless, which we think customers will appreciate, especially in current times. Ultimately, using a palm as a biometric identifier puts customers in control of when and where they use the service.”

The Amazon Go launch marks at least the second time that Amazon has tried out hand biometrics in grocery stores. A little more than a year ago, news emerged that Amazon-owned Whole Foods was quietly testing scanners that can identify an individual human hand as a way to ring up a store purchase. It wasn't immediately clear how closely related that effort is to the new Amazon One test.

Seattle-based Amazon is No. 2 on Progressive Grocer’s 2020 PG 100 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods is No. 24 on PG's list.

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