Israel-based CommonSense Robotics, a micro-fulfillment startup that last October launched its first autonomous sorting center in downtown Tel Aviv, today announced that it’s broken ground on what it claims is the world’s first underground automated warehouse, in partnership with one of Israel’s largest grocery chains. It’ll be located blocks from Rothschild Boulevard, in a parking structure beneath Shalom Meir Tower, and it’ll measure just 18,000 square feet with an average clearance height of 11 feet.
Cofounder and CEO Elram Goren says the center — which will be a full-service grocery site with three temperature zones, supporting on-demand fulfillment of fresh, ambient, chilled, and frozen items — will enable CommonSense’s partner to fulfill delivery orders in less than an hour. Furthermore, he says that thanks to a combination of robotic sorting systems and AI, the fulfillment center will prep items more quickly than the average team of human workers.
“With ecommerce logistics pushing both retailers’ profitability and urban infrastructures to the breaking point, it’s clear that we need to reinvent the way goods are fulfilled and delivered within cities,” said Goren. “In order to fulfill and deliver on demand, you inherently need to be closer to your end customers, but that’s really hard in cities. Taking ecommerce fulfillment underground inside cities is one way we can enable retailers to fulfill online orders in close proximity to their customers — while doing so profitably.”
CommonSense takes a hybrid approach to fulfillment. Robots within its site’s walls — orchestrated by software that breaks orders into tasks and delegates those tasks autonomously — bring items awaiting shipment in totes to teams of employees, who pack individual orders. Other robots move packaged orders to dispatch, where they’re loaded onto a scooter or van.
The company’s first fulfillment center, which it claims is one of the world’s smallest, measures just 6,000 square feet in total and services over 400 orders a day for drugstore chain Super-Pharm. That’s a twelfth the size of Apple’s 5th Avenue store in New York City and substantially smaller than most hubs, some of which have floor plans exceeding 120,000 square feet.
CommonSense raised $20 million in a funding round led by Playground Global last year, and it has its sights set on international expansion. The company is in talks with a number of large grocery retailers in the U.S. and U.K. and intends to launch “multiple sites” across the East Coast this year.
Of course, it’s far from the only firm bringing micro-fulfillment tech to retail.
Takeoff Technologies‘ platform, which works out of pharmacies, convenience stores, and quick-service restaurants, doubles as a pick-up station, complete with lockers for easy access. Commerce giant Walmart partnered with Alert Innovation in August 2018 to deploy AlphaBot, an autonomous fulfillment system capable of picking and transporting the “vast majority” of grocery items.
That’s not to mention the more than half-dozen startups deploying robots in store aisles. California company InVia Robotics raised $20 million this past summer to bring subscription-based robotics to ecommerce warehouses. In the U.K., supermarket chain Ocado recently took the wraps off of a picking and packing robot that can grasp fragile objects without breaking them. And French startup Exotec’s AI system Skypod taps robots capable of moving in three dimensions.