Toiling in cramped, sprawling warehouses can be hard work for staff traversing hundreds of thousands of square feet scouring endless rows of shelves to find the right item among myriad SKUs. But one startup thinks the future of warehousing should take a cue from the smart systems found in nature, specifically: the humble ant.
Canada’s Attabotics Inc., headquartered in Alberta, Canada, mimics the structural elegance of ant colonies in rethinking how warehouses can be organized for efficiency and productivity. And it’s raised $25 million from new investors Coatue, Comcast Ventures and Honeywell, along with previous partners Forerunner Ventures and Werklund Growth Fund, to take this unconventional idea to the next level.
The four-year-old company’s funding injection comes at a time when not only are investors pouring billions into the logistics sector, but online shopping’s popularity is powering explosive warehouse facility growth worldwide. Just months ago Locus Robotics, for example, drew $26 million in investment to grow its robotics-focused warehouse fulfillment technology.
Attabotics claims clients leveraging its vertically oriented robotics systems require as much as 85 percent less warehouse space than those maintaining traditional setups. A bevvy of bot-based shuttles drop goods in storage or ferries items to human workers poised at the system’s perimeter who stand ready to “pick, pack and shop modern commerce orders,” the company noted. But Attabotics replaces the familiar race-track-like systems of many robots and goods-to-person stations on the market with a towering construct whose white tiles conceal the bots therein. On the ground, personnel interact with a touchscreen to dictate the robotic shuttles’ movements.
CEO and CTO Scott Gravelle, who also founded the company, emphasized how Attabotics is designed to meet the needs of today’s rapidly growing businesses, which must satisfy demanding shoppers who increasingly expect to receive online orders as quickly as Amazon’s lightning fast Prime delivery.
“We applied the three-dimensional structure of ant colonies into a fulfillment system, built for modern commerce, that is flexible, scalable and accelerates the shipping and delivery process,” he said.
“Commerce is at a crossroads,” Gravelle continued, “and in order for retailers and brands of all types and sizes to thrive, they need to adapt and take advantage of new technologies to effectively meet consumers’ growing demands.”
In highlighting Attabotics’ market relevance, Forerunner Ventures general partner Eurie Kim said, “Supply chain efficiency, particularly relative to improving fulfillment speed and capabilities, is a critical (costly) strategic issue for brands and retailers to address as they struggle to meet the pressures of today’s competitive consumer environment while staying profitable.”
Not only does Attabotics offer retailers an “innovative back-end system,” Kim added, but it also aids businesses in smartly managing e-commerce’s enduring downside: returns.
This new approach to warehouse fulfillment and reverse logistics, according to Kim, allows merchants “to focus on its most important job—delighting customers.”