The Difficulty With Automated Checkouts

Dr Stuart Woolley
6 min readFeb 21, 2022

Who on earth programmed these monstrosities? Why? Dismantle them!

Photo by Victoria Borodinova from Pexels

My local supermarket recently installed a few of these automated supermarket based mobile Terminators, designed to eradicate the standard shopper who likes to interact with people and have a pleasant experience no doubt, and it’s a Very Bad Thing.

As a progressive software engineer I usually avoid the things like the plague but, unfortunately, today I mistakenly used one.

The Past

Automated checkouts with 1980s style computerised voices have been around for some time now, but the ongoing pandemic seems to have caused such a proliferation in their number that one could be mistaken that they’re being deliberately bred like springtime rabbits to send us all insane.

They’re horrible things by all accounts, turning shopping into a faceless and emotionless transaction, whilst depriving many people of either entry-level or part-time employment. And that’s before you get to the utter horror of their implementation — in hardware as well as software.

In the old times, pre-COVID, they were generally hidden away at the end of a long line of checkout tills and (thankfully) mostly unused¹. That is, aside from the brave few who would venture down there with just a couple of items and wanted to get out of the supermarket as quickly as possible.

You know the kind of thing — can of coke and a chicken sandwich, can of Monster and a breakfast roll, cheeky packet of biscuits — you know the score.

Scan, scan, tap, tap, beep and goodbye.

Unfortunately, if you were foolish enough to venture down there with any loose produce thinking you could make a quick scan, tap, and exit then just forget it.

You see, for any kind of vegetable (and who doesn’t nip into Tesco’s for a quick swede, carrot, or turnip³) you’d have to quickly identify it from a pixellated and generally unresponsive 1970s catalogue type user interface before the machine begins to verbally whine, at high volume, about your tardiness and then will ultimately automatically summon a human supervisor to further embarrass you about your deficient visual skills when it comes to legumes in person.

Dr Stuart Woolley

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.