Next year, your Thanksgiving grocery shopping may be fulfilled by robots—locally. Takeoff Technologies is piloting a technology that sends robots into a warehouse to fill grocery orders of up to 60 items in five minutes. This operation may finally make the eGrocery concept feasible. That concept goes back to Webvan, an online grocery fulfillment concept that was born—and soon died—during the dot-com boom and bust.
|Takeoff Technologies is working with a number of grocery chains to test a robotics system for picking and packing groceries. (Source: Takeoff Technologies)|
Takeoff is partnering with a number of supermarkets to launch the robotic picking of groceries. Albertsons is in the pilot phase of the micro-fulfillment center concept using Takeoff’s artificial intelligence capabilities to pick and pack groceries with an automated system. The pilot makes Albertsons the first national grocer to implement an automated eCommerce fulfillment solution. Albertsons expects to begin testing the robots with customers in 2019.
Users will choose their groceries online and the robots do the rest. “Orders will be placed through a customer-facing interface via web or app and shortly after, the customers can either pick up their groceries at the scheduled time slot or receive the groceries via delivery,” Max Pedro, co-founder and president of Takeoff, told Design News.
A Focus of Local Pick and Pack
Takeoff’s “hyper-local” automated fulfillment center will be piloted in an existing store. Just like regular store shelves, the automated shelves will be stocked frequently—only they will be replenished by machines. Then, customers will enter their orders using an eCommerce interface. The order will be delivered to the automated system. Takeoff’s robot pickers will run the fulfillment process, using artificial intelligence-enabled technology in a system of totes and conveyors to deliver the items to an Albertsons employee, who will prepare the order for the customer. The automation is designed to reduce the amount of time necessary for customer orders to be processed.
Pedro noted that AI-enabled robots can fill Albertsons orders of 60 items in just a few minutes—a fraction of speed and cost using current manual picking options. The automated centers have 1/10 the footprint of typical supermarket space, given the robotics and compact vertical spaces. Albertsons chose Takeoff because its system is currently ready for deployment and because Takeoff offers flexibility in picking various types of products. “Everyone can benefit from the added speed and convenience of the service,” said Pedro. “This will most likely appeal to customers who are strapped with time or simply value the convenience of the service.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
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