Amazon is patenting hand-recognition technology, and it could be implemented in Amazon Go stores

Getty/Stephen BrashearAn employee at an Amazon Go store.
  • A filing spotted by Recode shows Amazon is patenting technology for identifying people by scanning their hands.
  • The technology would identify people’s hands by analysing characteristics like wrinkles, veins, and even bones.
  • Many of the inventors listed on the patent work for Amazon Go, Amazon’s cashierless store endeavour where sensors allow shoppers to take items and be billed automatically.
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It looks like Amazon is trying to create a new kind of technology for tracking shoppers.

A patent filing first submitted last year and spotted by Recode shows that Amazon is trying to patent a technology for identifying people by scanning their hands.

The technology would analyse characteristics such as wrinkles and creases along with deeper structures including veins, bones, and soft tissue. It would then upload the image to a database, and use that image to identify a person by their hand.

This isn’t the first signal we’ve had that Amazon is turning to hand biometrics. The New York Post reported in September that Amazon was developing a payment system for the grocery chain Whole Foods – which it acquired in 2018 – which would let customers pay by simply swiping their hand under a scanner, rather than using a card.

Amazon goShoshy Ciment/Business Insider

According to Recode however this new patent could have particular relevance for Amazon’s cashierless brick-and-mortar Amazon Go stores. Currently to shop in an Amazon Go store, customers must download the Amazon Go app, which gives them a barcode to scan into barriers before heading into the store. Shoppers can simply take the items they want and walk out, and sensors installed around the store will automatically bill their Amazon account.

The patent does not explicitly mention Amazon Go, but says the technology could be useful for identifying visitors to “stores, libraries, hospitals [and] offices.” Recode notes however that a large number of the inventors listed on the patent work for Amazon Go. The new hand-scanning technology could give Amazon a new sensor to install in its cashierless stores.

Tech companies do not always realise every patent they submit, but the patent filing shows Amazon is at least exploring new ways to track and identify people. The tech giant already uses biometrics in its facial recognition software Rekognition, which has come under heavy fire from activists and AI experts who claim the technology exhibits racial and gender bias.

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