Is robotic micro-fulfillment the path to streamlined grocery pickup?
Much of the news in the past year about robotic order packing has centered on the automation of big-scale warehouse operations. But a few startups have been working on robotic grocery fulfillment solutions on a smaller scale and their concepts are beginning to come to fruition.
A startup called Takeoff Technology plans to launch a micro-fulfillment center in October which will use robots to handle order packing inside a grocery store, according to Fast Company. The technology is purported to facilitate the drive-thru pickup of a fully-prepared order within a half hour. The startup has not named the retail partner.
The micro-fulfillment centers within the stores Takeoff partners with are planned to be 6,000 to 10,000 square feet, an eighth of the size of a full grocery store, according to The Spoon. The company plans to use data collected from its retail partners to fine-tune its fulfillment procedures.
Israeli startup CommonSense Robotics has a similar solution that it foresees as being embedded in cities in a different manner, according to Supermarket News. The company’s 10,000 square-foot robotic fulfillment centers — which also make use of robots to bring packed groceries to human employees to prepare for pickup — are meant to take up otherwise underutilized spaces and basements and could be used to support multiple grocery stores at once. The startup already has a fulfillment center operating in Israel, with four additional centers planned for the coming year, including locations in the U.S. and the U.K.
These two solutions are somewhat different than previously-seen turnkey robotic solutions, like the one developed by Ocado. Ocado’s warehouses have been described as massive football field-sized robot hives, far larger than the micro-fulfillment centers, and designed to serve larger grocers. Ocado recently inked a deal with Kroger to develop automated warehouses for the chain.
Robots are also being put into practice to streamline click-and-collect processes and reduce wait times in other sectors of retail. Fast fashion retailer Zara, for example, is using robots to search store backrooms for orders and deposit them in drop boxes for collection.
- What if your grocery orders were prepared in a tiny robot warehouse? – Fast Company
- Takeoff is Creating New Hybrid Hyperlocal Robotic Grocery Fulfillment Centers – The Spoon
- Could robots and AI make delivery affordable for stores? – Supermarket News
- Will Ocado’s robots help U.S. grocers solve their online delivery problems? – RetailWire
- Ocado to automate Kroger warehouses in exclusive U.S. deal – RetailWire
- Robots become the moving force behind Zara’s click-and-collect ops – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see robotic micro-fulfillment centers popping up in U.S. grocery stores in the next several years? Which elements of these solutions sound most promising and which are most challenging?