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Express Lane Profile of Optimal Robotics Corp. which created the U-scan Express, an automated self-checkout system

By Michelle Prather

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've selected the perfect Cabernet for your date, who willbe at your apartment in 15 minutes-and you'd sure like to buyit, if it weren't for the cashier who's chatting with thewoman who just spent five minutes locating her ATM card and nowcan't swipe it correctly. Enter U-Scan Express, an automatedself-checkout system that allows shoppers to scan, purchase and baggoods, minus the cashier. Buy alcohol, cigarettes or otherrestricted items, and U-Scan, masterminded by Optimal RoboticsCorp. in Montreal, will prompt a clerk to check ID. Finally,we're entering Jetsons territory.

Now before you jump to "This will steal people'sjobs!" conclusions, let CEO Neil Wechsler, 34, explain."There's 4 percent unemployment, and retailers justcan't find labor," he says. "And when you askconsumers what the worst part of their experience in a retailestablishment is, they say 'getting out of there.' "As far as reaction from unions, Wechsler's heard nary apeep.

To date, about 650 U-Scan Express systems in 32 states are foundin chains like Kroger, Meijer and Wal-Mart-numbers that shouldboost Optimal Robotics' sales of $28 million last year to $50million by year-end. U-Scan terminals, which look like arcadechange machines-but with a bill slot, receipt dispenser,touch-screen monitor, scale and several open-bag dispensers-carriedout 45 million transactions in 1999. It also carries an overheadvideo camera and a scale underneath the bags (sensitive to ahundredth of a pound).

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