Watasale, India’s first autonomous retail store in Kochi
In what could persuasively change the brick-and-mortar retail model in India, which is also a bunch of some of the techies from Kerala have teamed up to open the country’s first autonomous retail store in Kochi.
The retails store has been named as ‘Watasale’, the store, inaugurated last week at a popular mall in the city, does not feature any salespersons or cashiers manning the counters. Apart from that, it offers shoppers a unique ‘checkout-free’ experience with the help of a combination of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, sensor fusion and computer vision. What’s more, in less than a week of operations, the team behind ‘Watasale’ have an offer of funding and strategic partnership from one of Japan’s largest corporate groups which is known as the Mitsui & Co Ltd.
“Back in the year 2015, it was a time when machine learning and artificial intelligence was really coming out as one of the boom in the market. We knew any segments can be disrupted with the help of this technology. If you look at the market trending structure, the retail segment was still following the age-old technologies which are still revolving in our country. We found it as a ripe ground for innovation and disruptive technologies,” said Richu Jose, COO of Watasale, who teamed up with four of his friends from engineering and tech backgrounds to begin the project three years ago.
It took the team of Watasale nearly three years of exhaustive brainstorming and countless trial sessions to get their algorithms right psot according to the Indian people which they began focusing on mainly building up the entire physical infrastructure and with the help of a skeletal framework of the retail store. The biggest challenge, Jose said, was to build up the core technical team and the right manpower who have expertise on advanced stages of artificial intelligence. After that the team decided not to opt for external funding during the initial process, finding a financial outlet was challenging as well, he added.
The Watasale store, which is merely located at the Grand Souk Mall in Kochi, is modelled on the same technology for which the largest ecommerce platform Amazon has used in its ‘checkout-free’ grocery store in Seattle, United States. “The core technology is the same. Amazon has done in its own fashion. We have done it our way,” said Jose.