The industriousness and effectivity of ants is well-known, and so they have impressed one firm engaged on provide chain automation. Attabotics makes a goods-to-person automated storage and retrieval system that features robotic carts that may transfer in three dimensions, identical to ants in a colony.
“The unique inspiration for the corporate was the leaf-cutter ant, whose Latin identify is ‘Atta,’” mentioned Scott Gravelle, founder, CEO, and chief expertise officer of Attabotics. “Their biomass outweighs that of humanity, however we hardly discover they’re there. The concept is easy algorithm can construct complicated behaviors. Ants don’t know how you can construct bridges, however they know how you can maintain onto their pals.”
Final month, Attabotics raised $25 million in Collection B funding. “Counting seed and angel capital, it was our fifth spherical up to now,” Gravelle mentioned. “Our expertise is deployed in six websites in numerous market verticals. Given the novelty of the corporate, which was shaped three years in the past, the quantity of curiosity and adoption is extremely encouraging.”
“Whereas it’s necessary to stay impartial, we’re privileged and honored to obtain funding from Honeywell and others,” he mentioned. “It’s a vote of confidence from companions with a like-minded imaginative and prescient of the availability chain market.”
Kiva rejection sparks concepts
“I used to be initially in manufacturing facility automation,” Gravelle advised The Robot Report. “We had reached out to Kiva Programs trying to make use of its expertise in buffering operations on the finish of the manufacturing line. The receptionist turned us down, as a result of Amazon had simply acquired it.”
“That despatched me down a rabbit gap, largely out of curiosity,” he recalled. “Robotics had simply been validated by one of many largest gamers, creating a business opportunity.”
“I began trying on the business with the benefit of a contemporary perspective,” mentioned Gravelle. “What I noticed was that the majority automated programs had been evolutions of a human-centric, 2D atmosphere, with roads or aisles offering entry to items.”
“Autonomous cell robots reminiscent of these from Locus Robotics or 6 River Systems are fascinating and have their place,” he mentioned. “We have now a totally completely different worth proposition. I attempted to discover a cost-effective answer, not an incremental enchancment on human efficiency.”
“I took inspiration from the TED talk by Kiva founder Mick Mountz and performed a thought experiment about what could be ideally suited for a robotic and never an individual,” he mentioned. “I noticed a documentary the place a researcher had poured molten aluminum down an ant colony after which dug it up. Ants combine items vertically.”
“I performed with some math — making the most of the ceiling top of most warehouses, we may take up lower than 6% of the world of guide operations and fewer than 12% of that utilized by Kiva,” Gravelle defined. “I then labored out the logic of how you can work together with the storage matrix and spent the following two years reaching out to automation firms and 3PLs [third-party logistics providers], seeing who else was .”
Gravelle described his method to constructing the expertise and the startup. “We began with a clean sheet of paper and created a success system tailor-made to fashionable commerce,” he mentioned. “It’s extremely versatile, combining the highest-density automated storage and retrieval system [AS/RS] with sortation, sequencing, and dealing with.”
“Attabotics’ shuttle strikes in three dimensions and might ship objects in any sequence to any location on the perimeter,” mentioned Gravelle. “It’s choose, pack, and discrete delivery with one algorithm. There’s no want for putwalls or sortation conveyors.”
Not solely does Attabotics’ system, which has mental property (IP) safety, allow fast and space-efficient order success, however it additionally permits for stock to be saved in ways in which they wouldn’t be if picked by folks.
“We’ve additionally decoupled throughput from storage quantity,” Gravelle mentioned. “With a modular atmosphere, there is no such thing as a want for outlining or engineering future workflows. In case you have linear conveyor programs, future workflows are outlined by the infrastructure.”
Whereas Attabotics makes use of some off-the-shelf elements, it makes its personal robots, racking, bins, and software program. Gravelle noticed that his background in manufacturing makes it simpler to scale up.
“We use some confirmed industrial mechatronics items like gearboxes, servos, and management programs in our shuttle, however they’re in a novel configuration assembled in Calgary,” defined Gravelle. “The pick-station interface and software program we make in home. With our modular infrastructure, we are able to interface with conveyors, field makers, and piece-picking programs.”
“Our software-defined atmosphere might be tailor-made to buyer wants with out unbolting issues from the ground, future-proofing the answer,” he claimed. “We mix the performance of storage, retrieval, and buffering. If you mix the 50% house financial savings from shuttling with the remainder of the footprint, that’s the place the last word financial savings are available. We remove complexity in management.”
“On the inbound aspect, our scanning expertise and APIs [application programming interfaces] combine with any WMS [warehouse management system] that we’ve encountered,” Gravelle mentioned. “As a result of we handle the whole lot inside our system, we simply ask the WMS to take a look at us as a part of the system, with inputs and outputs.”
Larger totes and fewer packing containers
Attabotics makes use of totes which might be 600 x 600mm, or 23.6 inches sq., relatively than the usual 600 x 400mm (23.6 x 15.7 in.) totes that AS/RS programs generally use.
“Trying on the largest e-commerce gamers, 99% of their stuff matches into our totes,” mentioned Gravelle. “As a Canadian, I wish to say that we’re good at hockey pucks, not hockey sticks. We’re creating the nontechnical features to do the merge between non-conveyable items and our system seamlessly. We’re in talks with different robotics suppliers for such items.”
“Going again to the naturally impressed easy guidelines results in efficiencies,” he mentioned. “Attabotics’ system calls the closest robotic and mechanically places the most well-liked objects on the perimeter. We don’t need to do slotting; the algorithm does it.”
“There are benefits to making a supply chain with unified tote-based ecosystem,” he mentioned. “If we don’t depend on conveyor-based expertise for distribution, we may sometime serve shoppers without having as many cardboard packing containers. That might do away with the majority of cargo, and gig [economy] companions may use totes to ship items in the identical method Uber Eats and DoorDash do at this time — in a bag.”
Micro-fulfillment and a imaginative and prescient of future provide chains
“The flexibleness of our design permits us to take full benefit of all these new alternatives, together with grocers and brick-and-mortar, big-box shops,” famous Gravelle. “We’ve seen lots of inbound curiosity in micro-fulfillment facilities.”
“After we speak about ecosystems, we’re speaking a few method to marry the availability chain — reminiscent of darkish warehouses or micro-fulfillment websites — and decanting kitting processes to help micro-sites,” he mentioned. “It’s not simply the warehouse in a single constructing, but additionally completely different granularities of expertise to help shopper items, groceries, and e-commerce. That’s our grand imaginative and prescient — to create what’s wanted for the availability chain of the long run.”
“Amazon has carried out an incredible job of defining the decentralized, multimodal method,” Gravelle mentioned. “Walmart, Target, and Kroger have cash, however many others are on the lookout for some answer. Some are taking a look at utilizing our expertise in a multi-tenant atmosphere.”
“One of many largest constraints on fashionable commerce success is folks. The objective is to depart folks essentially the most human work, not strolling or pushing a cart,” he asserted. “Our objectives are to keep away from turning folks in warehouses into machines and to maneuver success and jobs again into cities. Now, labor could also be an hour and a half out, and as a substitute of coping with an individual at a retailer, the employee is fulfilling purchases in a 1.5 million-sq.-ft. facility. We wish staff and shoppers to have the absolute best experiences.”
Attabotics explores grocery success
“We’re taking a look at creating a freezer variant of our expertise that guarantees power financial savings of 50%,” Gravelle mentioned. “It’s on our roadmap proper now for grocery micro-fulfillment.”
“We’ve had conversations with all the key gamers in that business,” he mentioned. “There’s a substantial amount of urge for food for automation, as we’ve seen with CommonSense Robotics, TakeOff Technologies, and Alert Innovation with Walmart.”
Preparing for progress
Attabotics has grown from 40 folks 18 months in the past to about 200 folks. “We’re including 50 folks to the group by the top of the yr,” mentioned Gravelle. “The Canadian authorities has been very supportive and needs to maintain the IP in Canada.”
“We moved out of the analysis and improvement store in March of final yr, and we simply moved right into a 72,000-sq.-ft. facility,” he mentioned. “We’re quadrupling manufacturing capability by the top of the yr.”
Attabotics is on the lookout for a second manufacturing website to serve North America and is opening an workplace in Southern California to be the bottom of its U.S. operations. The corporate has already seen demand from firms of various sizes.
“We’ve seen initiatives as small as 1,000 totes for micro-fulfillment with a 3PL doing medical provides,” Gravelle mentioned. “The most important is 194,000 totes, and do not forget that our totes are bigger than normal, in order that’s extra like 250,000. It’s being commissioned in phases in omni-channel retail success for a brick-and-mortar retailer chain.”
“We’re nonetheless studying day-after-day, working with shopper companions which have completely different enterprise guidelines and completely different outcomes based mostly on them,” he mentioned. “We’re seeing how you can greatest use our expertise of their environments, and we’re excited to see what the long run will ship.”
The Robotic Report has launched the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which might be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The convention and expo focuses on enhancing the design, improvement and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum.