Using Fixed Cameras in Restaurants for Inventory Management? Fixed cameras have gained popularity with the rise of Amazon Go’s Just Walk Out technology and many foodservice operators have explored the fixed camera approach for inventory management and order fulfillment. With their ability to capture real-time footage, analyze images, and automate inventory counts, fixed cameras offer unique advantages. However, integrating fixed cameras into restaurant operations presents its own set of challenges.
The Difficulties of Utilizing Fixed Cameras for Inventory Control
In this article, we will explore some of the challenges faced by restaurants when implementing fixed cameras for inventory counts and order management.
Cost of Infrastructure
Implementing fixed camera systems involves upfront costs for purchasing cameras, storage devices, network infrastructure and installation. The cost of fixed camera infrastructure for an inventory management solution can vary significantly depending on the size of the facility, the number of cameras needed, and the desired features and capabilities.
Initial setup expenses typically include the purchase of high-quality fixed cameras, installation costs, and any required supporting hardware, such as network switches and storage devices. Beyond the initial investment, ongoing expenses may include maintenance, software updates, and data storage costs. Since fixed cameras continuously capture video data, significant storage capacity is essential, especially for high-resolution footage or extended retention periods.
Some operators may opt to start with a smaller-scale implementation that focuses on critical areas, such as the back-of-house metro shelf area or preparation stations. However, because this will not include all inventory, the resulting data may not offer much value if supply chain automation is your end goal.
Camera Placement and Coverage
Determining the optimal placement and coverage of fixed cameras is crucial to ensure accurate inventory counts and effective order management. Restaurants often have multiple storage areas, kitchens, and service points, requiring careful planning for comprehensive coverage.
In addition to conducting a thorough assessment of the restaurant layout to identify key areas for camera placement, such as storage rooms, walk-in refrigerators, and prep stations, consider installing multiple cameras strategically positioned to capture different angles and viewpoints within each area. This helps to minimize blind spots and ensure comprehensive coverage. Finally, you will also want to perform regular testing to evaluate camera coverage and make necessary adjustments based on operational needs and changing inventory storage configurations.
There may be locations where fixed cameras simply will not work due to conditions. Common storage areas like refrigerators or freezers lack a suitable mounting position to give you a clear view of the entire space. In addition, condensation built up from running the defrost cycle or opening/closing the door during normal operations will interfere with the camera’s viewfinder. Lastly, lighting within the cooling cabinets will prohibit most cameras from seeing products.
Implementing a fixed camera solution for inventory management can present significant challenges in terms of increased network usage, particularly when camera devices are configured to send images to the cloud instead of utilizing edge computing. In a fixed camera setup, multiple cameras may be deployed across the facility to monitor various inventory points, resulting in a substantial volume of image data being generated continuously. When these cameras are set to send all the captured images directly to the cloud for processing and analysis, it can lead to a surge in network traffic and bandwidth consumption. This influx of data could overload the organization's network infrastructure, causing delays in data transmission, increased latency, and potential disruptions to other critical network services.
Furthermore, sending images to the cloud for analysis may also result in higher data storage costs and longer processing times. Additionally, the reliance on cloud-based processing introduces potential privacy and security concerns, as sensitive inventory information could be exposed during data transmission and storage.
In contrast, edge computing devices, like Nomad Go’s METAshelf, offers a more efficient solution, as data processing occurs directly on the device, reducing the need for large-scale data transfers and easing the burden on the network. With edge computing, only relevant information or analyzed results are transmitted, significantly mitigating network congestion and ensuring more real-time inventory management insights.
Privacy and Security Concerns
Fixed cameras capture real-time footage and images of more than just the shelves they are pointed towards. Sometimes to capture an entire shelf, you may inadvertently capture other parts of the kitchen or dining room. This should raise concerns regarding privacy and data security.
It is crucial to address these concerns and ensure compliance with applicable regulations and privacy laws. Some things to keep in mind include:
- Clear Communication to Staff: Inform employees and visitors about the presence and purpose of fixed cameras for inventory counts and order management. Clearly communicate the measures taken to protect privacy and the intended use of captured footage.
- Data Security Measures: Implement robust data security protocols, including encryption, access controls, and regular system audits, to protect stored footage and sensitive information that may be included on footage captured.
- Compliance with Regulations: Ensure compliance with local data protection and privacy laws when implementing fixed camera systems. Seek legal guidance to ensure adherence to applicable regulations.
Fixed camera systems require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance and longevity. This includes continual camera calibration, software updates, and troubleshooting technical issues.
To ensure data is consistently flowing, operators will need to monitor all hardware and establish a regular maintenance schedule to inspect and maintain the system. This should include cleaning camera lenses, checking connections and camera angles, and updating firmware. Implement monitoring and alert systems that notify operators of any technical issues or malfunctions, allowing for timely intervention and preventive maintenance.
Due to the complexity of the system, operators should also establish a partnership with a reliable vendor or service provider who can offer technical support and assistance for ongoing maintenance needs.
Restaurants frequently encounter varying lighting conditions, including low-light environments, dimly lit storage areas, or areas with harsh artificial lighting. Inconsistent lighting can affect image quality and accuracy, impacting inventory counts and order management.
Proper lighting in storage areas and other key locations are essential to improve image clarity and accuracy. Some fixed camera solutions may require you to adjust lighting fixtures or install additional lighting sources if needed. Still others may require additional configuration to off-the-shelf camera settings, such as exposure and sensitivity, to adapt to different lighting conditions and enhance image quality.
Implementing fixed cameras for inventory counts and order management in foodservice back-of-house settings offers benefits, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Retailers must carefully consider the initial investment, infrastructure, on-going maintenance and privacy concerns associated with fixed cameras. Implementation of a fixed camera solution may not be feasible for every operator. There are alternative solutions, including Nomad Go’s METAshelf that offers the same data, but faster and more accurately.