This A.I.-enabled tech brings cutting-edge automation to grocery stores

There is a real battle to change how consumers get their groceries raging right now, as exemplified by Amazon’s structural changes at Whole Foods, Walmart’s new push to deliver groceries, and Amazon’s cashless convenience stores. A new Boston-based company called Takeoff Technologies wants to occupy the sweet spot between all those innovations by bringing artificial intelligence-driven, robot-enhanced order fulfillment to grocery stores all over the country.

The basic idea is to install automated centers inside of grocery stores that are capable of assembling orders of up to 60 items in minutes, at a fraction of the speed and cost of having employees hand-pick the shopping order.

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“Until now, the grocery industry has adopted two approaches to fulfill online orders,” co-founder and CEO Jose Vicente Aguerrevere explained to Digital Trends. “The first one is manual picking at the store level, and the second one is large warehouses with some sort of automation. These models only partially tackle the key costs of doing groceries online: Cost of picking products and cost of the last mile. Takeoff brings in an innovative approach that brings automation to the store level. This brings the best of two worlds: Lowest picking costs with robotized fulfillment and lowest cost of the last mile with hyperlocal operation.”

Takeoff is partnered with Knapp, a global leader in automated warehouse solutions and co-founders Aguerrevere and Max Pedro say the automation is beyond proven. “We are not reinventing the wheel with new robotic hardware and going through long cycles of [research and development],” Pedro said.

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Takeoff works with retailers to identify 8,000 to 10,000-square-foot spaces inside existing grocery stores where they can employ their automated fulfillment system. By applying an additional layer of intelligence to a technology that already performs in more than 2,000 operational sites, Takeoff says that hyperlocal fulfillment will improve the experience of customers as well as store efficiency.

“Takeoff’s lower cost to serve than other models translates into lower costs and fees to shoppers,” Aguerrevere said. “Also, it enables a quick response to customers with orders fulfilled and delivered within two hours. It’s a real win-win for retailers and their customers.”

The company has already installed its first platform at a grocer called Sedano’s Supermarket in Miami, dubbed the “world’s first robotic supermarket,” and Takeoff is currently deploying additional sites for well-known chains like Albertsons and Ahold Delhaize.

Robotic grocery fulfillment is clearly a hot concept not only in the grocery market, where online sales are expected to reach $100 billion by 2025, but also in the minds of investors, who recently awarded Takeoff $12.5 million in a recent round of funding.

“Ecommerce presents a great growth opportunity for grocers,” Aguerrevere said. “However, the path to profitability has been challenging. Costs of picking and costs of the last-mile delivery coupled with the industry’s low margins make it challenging to be profitable without charging significant fees to shoppers. Takeoff’s hyperlocal automated solution offers low costs of picking with a much lower cost of the last mile delivery than an off-site warehouse. It’s also 10 times less expensive to build and takes three months as opposed to three years.”

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