CommonSense photo

A robotic picking system under development in Israel could change the landscape of inner-city delivery and help small grocery stores compete with the big guys.

Elram Goren, CEO of CommonSense Robotics, says that the automated system could make it not only cheaper to shop online rather than in person, but faster too, in a report from Fast Company.

The system is based on locating small fulfillment centres in urban locales near grocery stores and packing them with tightly-arranged products in racks. Once an online order is received, a robot is dispatched to pick the products and bring them to a human packer.

According to the article, the system could reduce the time to get a 20-item order from delivery providers like Instacart from 20 minutes to five.

Another advantage of the new system, now being tested in Tel Aviv, is that the robots need much less space than human pickers, so the fulfillment centres use space far more efficiently than the massive warehouses employed by large retailers, which have to be located outside the urban core. Being much smaller, the centres can be located close to the grocery stores – and the consumers – but can still be situated in lower-rent locations off main streets.

In a tight-margin business, the system could reduce delivery costs by bypassing human involvement and cutting the time required to truck orders from distant warehouses. CommonSense Robotics also says that by maximizing the use of space and eliminating the large warehouses, the system can reduce operational costs overall.

Another edge for the little guy: one micro warehouse could be shared among several small retailers who otherwise might not have the capital to run one of their own.

The first centre will open in Israel this year. Another in the U.S. will probably follow.

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