Watch: A team of robots fulfills an order in 1 hour

The next evolution of the logistics automation may be in robot-run micro-fulfillment.

Want orders in an hour? That will soon be a reality in more markets thanks to robots.

Automation had made large-scale, ultra-fast order fulfillment economically viable (see: Jeff Bezos world domination), but the physical remoteness of typical logistics facilities has prevented retailers from offering true on-demand delivery outside a few metropolitan markets. But by harnessing networks of tiny automated hubs, micro-fulfillment could enable retailers to store their goods in the hearts of cities while still benefiting from the efficiency of automation.

CommonSense Robotics, a company that's leveraging logistics automation with nimble deployments of micro-fulfillment centers, is betting big on the micro-fulfillment approach, and the company just passed an important milestone: Its first 1-hour fulfillment delivery. 

The delivery, which took place in Israel, comes in partnership with Super-Pharm, an Israeli health and beauty retailer. The embedded video, a clever bit of publicity, x-rays the process from order to delivery and gives a great overview of how automation fulfillment enables ultra-fast home deliveries. 

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It all starts with the order: toothpaste, diapers, formula, a sippy cup. I have a toddler and a 4-month old, so this one spoke to me. The heart of the fulfillment center is an automated storage area where robots pick items from a bin. The items are transferred to autonomous carts, which convey them to a central human-run terminal for scanning and bagging.

One of the expected drawbacks of microfulfillment would be that centers wouldn't be able to pack the same diversity of items as a massive distribution center. But CommonSense's CEO, Elram Goren, tells me that's not true.

"We don't actually make retailers cut down on item diversity - our micro-fulfillment centers can support the full range of products of a typical grocery store. That's something very unique to our solution in the market -- because our entire technology stack is propriety and purpose built, we don't make retailers choose between product range and speed." 

Goren uses the site in the video as an example, which is CommonSense's first commercial operation. The site is 6000 sq feet and supports up to 10,000 products. Even by micro-fulfillment standards this is a small site, but that's okay since it supports a drug store chain, which typically stocks a much lower product range. A larger site would support around 30-40k products (SKUS).

How does that compare to Amazon's fulfillment centers?

"Amazon's massive fulfillment centers are huge facilities (some over 1 million square meters) that can house millions of different types of products," says Goren. "What we're able to do with our Micro-fulfillment centers is to bring our operations (and a retailers' products) close to where customers live, therefore making fast deliveries possible, and profitable. Should a retailers demand a product range increase we can very quickly add another site to serve those needs, exactly where the customers are that they want to serve."

All this adds up to a potential erosion of Amazon's monopoly on fast fulfillment. CommonSense Robotics model is as-a-service, meaning smaller retail chains are now able to access lightning quick end-to-end order fulfillment.