Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You

Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You

Alternative Title: Innovation at Scale

Sure, it’s cheaper than ever to innovate today. Computing power increases while prices stay relatively flat. Cloud computing enables startups and small companies to acquire server capacity when needed and to leverage Artificial Intelligence capability from Day 1. Yet there are still real benefits to having scale, especially within the Technology vertical. Even more so when a single company owns the ecosystem for this allows for controlled experimentation.

Take for example Amazon. Jeff Bezos and team are always looking for large markets to attack and continuously work to remove friction from the user experience (as all companies should).

Shortly after its 2018 acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon rolled out its Amazon Go food retail chain which leverages proprietary cashierless technology (powered by computer vision, sensors and software) to eliminate store checkouts. This week it was reported that Amazon will enable Prime members to pay for goods at Whole Foods locations using Prime members’ hands as the ID mechanism. This technology is supposed to roll out within months. Rather than swipe a credit card or wave your phone, you will simply hand over your hand. Code-named “Orville” (but perhaps more appropriately “Orwell”), the technology is reportedly accurate to within one ten-thousandth of 1%. Amazon engineers are reportedly working to improve it to a millionth of 1% ahead of its launch. Amazon’s new technology can apparently process a transaction in less than 300 milliseconds.

Amazon’s new biometric technology leverages computer vision and depth geometry to identify the size and shape of each hand it scans. Computer vision is hardly a new science although this application is obviously unique. The takeaway here is less about the new technology and more about Amazon’s sheer size which amplifies the company’s innovations. Amazon’s immense scale and enormous captive audience (more than 100 million Prime members) allow for a long-term strategic approach to innovation (see “Innovation as a Line of Business“) where small innovations move the needle on Amazon’s P&L, and larger innovations can disrupt entire industries overnight.


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