This fall, startup Takeoff will be launching its first hyperlocal grocery micro-fulfillment center powered by robots and artificial intelligence (AI). Whew! There’s a lot to unpack in that opener, mostly because Takeoff is at the center of quite a few trends we’re seeing in grocery retail.
First, a brief explainer. Takeoff partners with existing grocery retailers (the company declined to provide specifics names at this time) and builds mini-robotic fulfillment centers inside these stores. Takeoff co-founders Jose Vicente Aguerrevere and Max Pedro told me in an interview that their system requires 6,000 – 10,000 square feet, which is “an eighth or less” of the size of a typical grocery store.
As you can see in the video below, these fulfillment centers are big, automated system that shuttle around crates of products, bringing them to a human picker, who bags the items for pickup or delivery. The robots are from KNAPP, and Takeoff has built an end-to-end software solution that manages inventory, robotic fulfillment and customer delivery logistics for its system.
Depending on the partnership, customers will either order groceries through the Takeoff app, or through the retailer’s app. Once placed, the order is sent to the robot fulfillment center where it automatically grabs the selected items. After the items are sorted and bagged, customers can either pull up to a special Takeoff drive-through at the store or schedule a delivery within a two-hour window.
Because Takeoff partners with existing retail stores, it doesn’t have to manage its own inventory. Vicente Aguerrevere and Pedro said that additionally, with Takeoff being embedded in the store, they get a hyperlocal view into what products are popular in each neighborhood. With this data, Takeoff can fine tune its own stocking and fulfillment procedures to be more efficient.
While it remains to be seen what Takeoff will look like when it actually launches (location TBA), the startup is worth watching because it will sit in this nexus of so many grocery trends: microhubs, robotics, and pick-up/delivery.
At first glance, Takeoff is kind of like Farmstead, which is using AI to precisely manage inventory and deliver groceries from smaller, urban microhubs. By skipping big warehouse fulfillment centers (a la Good Eggs) and their requisite zoning requirements, Takeoff can go deeper into urban areas to facilitate faster grocery service by being closer to the customer. But where Farmstead is using humans, Takeoff is relying on robots.
This robotics approach is then similar to Common Sense Robotics, which is using robots to speed up delivery in its own microhubs. Robots can move quickly and accurately, and operate heavy loads without a break. But Common Sense builds its own bespoke micro warehouses to re-shape the supply chain. Takeoff is working within existing supply chains in grocery stores, leveraging supermarket infrastructures and neighborhood locations.
Hooking up with grocery stores doesn’t just help Takeoff leverage someone else’s inventory — it also helps with the last mile. Because Takeoff functions inside grocery stores, which are already close to where people live, customers can either pick up their groceries while running errands or let Takeoff’s software coordinate a drop-off through various delivery services.
Takeoff plans to make money through revenue sharing with potentially no up-front cost for the store, depending on the arrangement. Takeoff is based in Waltham, MA, has 75 employees and recently closed a $15 million Series B round, bringing its total fundraising to $37 million.
There is definitely a lot to unpack with Takeoff, now we’ll just see if retailers bring them on board to pack more of their groceries.