BILLERICA (CBS) – Meet the newest grocery store associate – the Alphabot.
“Think of it almost like a drone. It can go to any horizontal space and climb and fly. The only thing is we have gears instead of propellers,” explained Bill Fosnight, co-founder and Chief Development Officer at Alert Innovation. The Billerica company is testing the robot around the clock and it is about to make its debut.
“I think it’s going to really lead to a dramatic transformation of how people shop and how stores operate,” said John Lert, founder and Chief Executive Officer at Alert. That transformation is beginning at the Walmart in Salem, New Hampshire. Soon the bots will be hard at work inside a new addition to the building.
“Our robots are really doing the jobs that customers do today,” said Fosnight. Instead of customers filling up their own carts they will be able to place orders online. That’s when the Alphabots get to work. The groceries are stored in blue totes that the Alphabots are programmed to retrieve while navigating along customized metal racks.
“It’s the only robot that can basically move vertically and then access and work on any horizontal level,” said Fosnight. The robots seamlessly move along the tracks in any direction picking up dry, refrigerated, or frozen items. The team assumes shoppers will still want to hand-pick produce.
“We envision this world where customers can just walk into a store, order from a screen, the order is ready by the time they pick their fresh goods,” explained Lert.
But is it really faster than your own weekly shopping routine?
“There’s no doubt about that,” Lert said with a laugh. “Typically humans picking an order will be able to pick 80-to-100 items an hour. And we have demonstrated here in our lab the ability to pick orders at 600 items an hour.”
“The flexibility and the time saving I think make a big difference to people’s lives.” said Lert.
Shoppers will be able to start placing online grocery orders at the Walmart in Salem, New Hampshire in October. Initially, Salem shoppers will need to pick up those orders. But, eventually, Walmart plans to offer a delivery option, as well. Whether it’s pick up or delivery, the Alphabots will be filling those orders by the end of the year.