As they come to market, automated grocery fulfillment solutions are taking a number of different shapes. Companies like Takeoff Technologies and Dematic are building them into the backs of existing stores, while Kroger and Ocado are building out big, standalone smart warehouses.
Unlike those other players in the space, Urbx wants its automated fulfillment center to get high — vertically speaking. The Boston-based company is working on robotic fulfillment that scales up to 150 ft. tall. While the Urbx system is tall, it only takes up 1,800 sq. ft., so it can nestle into the limited, tight real estate areas in cities. As Urbx CEO, Lincoln Cavalieri explained to me by phone this week, Urbx is “ideal for urban environments, food deserts, where property prices are high.”
Urbx has a dual go-to market strategy. First, like other automated fulfillment technology companies, Urbx will work with third-parties to integrate its automation into other stores. At the same time, Cavalieri said that the company will eventually build “thousands” of its own Urbx-branded automated markets. But these Urbx markets won’t be anything like a traditional grocery store.
The Urbx market won’t have any aisles to roam or bakery sections to get treats from. Instead, the “store” part will be a series of kiosks. Shoppers can either place their order by mobile phone or at the kiosk. Cavalieri said once an order is placed, Urbx’ robots can pack an order of 50 items in less than two minutes. (A 25-item order takes just a little over one minute.) Robots then deliver the packed items to the kiosk for the customer to take out.
Urbx will also have curbside pickup, delivery via electric bicycles and, at some point down the line, drone delivery.
All of this, however, is still a ways away. The company has only raised a seed round of funding and won’t have its first third-party implementations ready to be installed until the end of this year. Urbx hopes to have its first Urbx market developed by the end of next year.
This is certainly the right time to launch an automated fulfillment solution. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed record amounts of people into grocery e-commerce, which is expected to grow to take up 21.5 percent of total grocery sales by 2025.
As such, many retailers are accelerating their automation endeavors to keep up with e-commerce demand. Alberstons is expanding its use of automated fulfillment centers and testing out robotic pickup kiosks. And Walmart is working with three different companies to deploy automated fulfillment centers to dozens of locations this year.
With plans for its own line of supermarkets, Urbx is the most ambitious automated fulfillment startup we’ve covered so far. Now we just have to see if rollout of tall centers can match the height of its goals.