The grocery industry in America is constantly growing according to one of the latest Business Insider reports on this issue; food and beverage is the largest retail category, with $600 billion a year in sales, of which, however, only 1% currently occur online.
What is not working in the online grocery shopping experience offered by supermarkets? Making the most of this huge gap, a start-up from Boston, Takeoff, is developing "micro fulfillment centers": tiny and highly automated structures for food distribution that can be located at existing supermarkets and be used to assemble orders quickly for delivery or for customer pickup. Last January, the start-up announced a new $12.5 million funding round for the launch in October of its first experiment in a supermarket, whose name is not yet known, where warehouse logistics robots will transport the goods required by customers in specific containers while human beings, in charge of order composition and control, will assemble them according to orders made strictly online.
Ideally, according to the start-up, customers will be able to make an order and pick up groceries without even getting out of their car, in just half an hour. The process should be more efficient than the existing services where staff at supermarkets pick up the goods ordered from the shelves; in addition, the use of containers to handle goods will also optimize the work of robots, which will then be able to transport and handle even fragile items without any problem. Using artificial intelligence and data analysis tools, the positioning of items in boxes will be optimised according to specific criteria, such as product temperature, best before date etc.
The entire process, once it becomes fully operational, proves that the man-machine collaboration, if used in a strategic way, can be very beneficial in terms of competitiveness and speed, leaving human beings responsible for handling goods with the most unpredictable shapes and analysing and identifying any defects, whilst assigning to robots the task of transporting and handling heavy loads and automatically recording the work done.