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Amazon’s project ‘Orville’ might have us buying groceries with a wave of the hand

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Sep 4, 2019

We’re not sure why Amazon might’ve chosen “Orville” as its code name for a new hand recognition system that reportedly aims to have customers buying their Whole Foods groceries simply by a show of hands. But “Orville” kinda sounds like “Orwell” — and turning your body into a pass-through conduit for legal tender does have that alluring (and hopefully benign) whiff of dystopian futurism.

Sinister jokes aside, Amazon-owned Whole Foods reportedly is planning to test the idea of using a still-in-development hand-recognition system to ring noms-hungry guests up at the checkout counter, if they’ve first consented to disclose to the retail giant their unique biometric signatures. According to The New York Post, the project uses biometric scanners “that can identify an individual human hand as a way to ring up a store purchase, with the goal of rolling [the system] out at its Whole Foods supermarket chain in the coming months.”

Diving further into the reported details makes it sound as though Amazon’s engineers are working on a means of hand scanning that doesn’t require physical contact with any sensors — just a near-field wave of the hand, similar to RFD-equipped payment systems and UPC code scanning.

“The company's technology uses computer vision and depth geometry to identify the size and shape of your hand before charging the credit card you have on file,” the report states. Although present builds already are within .001 percent accuracy, Amazon’s goal is reportedly .0000001 (that’s one millionth) percent, according to the report, before the system shows up in the wild. 

While Apple and other tech companies already have demonstrated that facial recognition and similar technologies are viable for real-world use (and Amazon’s system reportedly uses similar vision and depth tech to achieve its hand scans), instances of customers and retailers exchanging biometric data are rare to nonexistent — at least in the U.S. But in China and other countries where the lines between corporate and individual access to personal data are more blurry, biometric scanning at the point of sale already exists.

If the system ever does make it into Whole Foods stores, it’ll likely stand alongside conventional payment options, so it’ll remain up to the customer whether it’s a great idea to link one’s bank account with one’s body. All we ask is that Amazon at least reward anyone who opts in with a scanning setup that looks and feels even cooler than any scan-happy tech we’ve ever seen in Star Trek or The Terminator.

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