One-click purchases, Alexa, and now AI-powered cashier-less convenience stores: Amazon has long been setting standards that others rush to compete with. So it’s no wonder that the Amazon Go convenience store, which uses cameras and image recognition to track and ring up all the items people take off shelves, has been met with a frenzy of startup rivals. Now one of them, Standard Cognition, has gone beyond cool demos and announced a deal to deploy the technology in stores with a major partner.

The deal is with Paltac Corporation, the biggest supplier to drugstore-style shops in Japan. It begins modestly, with a single pilot store in the city of Sendai, about four hours north of Tokyo, set to open in early 2019. Then it ramps up fast: The plan is to outfit over 3,000 stores in time for the Tokyo Olympics in July 2020. “The government is pushing its stores and its companies to put their best digital foot forward for the Olympics,” says Michael Suswal, Standard Cognition’s COO and one of the Bay Area startup’s seven cofounders.

Partnering with Paltac, which supplies most of Japan’s small retail industry, allows Standard Cognition to reach a diverse market. “Drugstores are a fractured ecosystem in Japan . . . The biggest chains have like 2,000 locations and most of the chains are in the hundreds,” says Suswal.

With cameras only in the ceiling, there’s essentially nothing to see in the setup. [Photo: courtesy of Standard Cognition]

The startup uses cameras to track what people pick up, and it automatically bills them as they leave the store. Like Amazon Go and other rivals, Standard Cognition can also see if people put an item back on the shelf, and will take it off the bill. The system uses only ceiling-mounted cameras, with no sensors on the shelves, which cuts complexity, according to Suswal.

“In a store the size of Amazon Go, it would use about 25 cameras,” he says. The inaugural Amazon Go store in…