Albertsons announced today it will pilot a new micro-fulfillment center in one of its grocery stores using Takeoff‘s robot-powered technology. The deal marks the first time a nationwide grocery chain will implement Takeoff’s technology, and further highlights how robots will play an increasingly important part of the grocery retail experience.
Details on the upcoming Albertsons implementation were light. The press release only said the micro-fulfillment technology would be built into an “existing store” and didn’t say where or when the build out would be complete.
Takeoff partners grocery chains to create automated systems inside grocery stores to fulfill ecommerce orders. The center typically requires 6,000 – 10,000 square feet (about an eighth of a store’s total space) and holds commonly ordered items in its inventory. When an ecommerce order comes into the store, Takeoff’s software coordinates a series of crate-bots that shuttles food around a railed system. Items are automatically brought to a human who bags the order for pickup or delivery.
Albertsons may be the first nationwide chain to implement Takeoff’s solution, but the startup has been working with other partners including another test this month with Hispanic market, Sedano’s in Miami. I spoke with Takeoff’s CEO, Jose Vicente Aguerrevere and President, Max Pedro earlier this month, who said that their company has agreements with five retailers and will have five micro-fulfillment sites going live in Q1 of 2019.
It should be noted, however, that Albertsons is not the only national chain experimenting with robot-powered systems to speed up order fulfillment. This summer, Walmart announced it was building out a 20,000 square foot robotic fulfillment center to its Salem, New Hampshire store. And Kroger is leveraging its investment in Ocado to create 20 robot-driven smart warehouses across the country to speed up its last mile logistics.
All of this is to say that automation is hot. More than $1.2 billion has been invested in grocery tech this year, according to Pitchbook, and robots are playing a starring role. In addition to fulfillment, robots are scanning shelves to check on inventory, powering self-driving vehicles for food delivery and possibly being embedded into shopping carts.
Automation may be great, and it certainly seems poised to, err, take off in the coming year, I just hope robots can start doing a better job of picking out produce I order online.