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Target Adopts Warehouse Robots: Other Major Chains Could Follow

Target Adopts Warehouse Robots: Other Major Chains Could Follow

WILMINGTON, MA – Robots are moving into retail packing. Target has decided to adopt automatons from robotics company Symbotic, LLC, for one of its biggest California distribution centers, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Rick Cohen, Owner, Symbotic

“What we’re doing with autonomous bots is not that dissimilar from what Google is doing with autonomous cars,” grocery giant and Symbotic Owner Rick Cohen told WSJ. “I think within five years, it’ll change distribution.”

The technology, WSJ reports, enables robots to move up and down aisles to stack and retrieve cases autonomously, allowing for Target to upgrade and save on costs.

Larry Sweet, Former Chief Technology Officer, Symbotic

“Target was going to have to build a new facility in California, which is horrendously expensive,” Larry Sweet, a Georgia Tech robotics professor and Symbotic’s Chief Technology Officer at the time of the Target project, told WSJ. Sweet explained that Target wanted to keep up with demand by expanding, but did not want to build a facility from the ground up. “They wanted that facility to handle more volume, but they couldn’t do it. Symbotic was able to put a system in the building that helped that.”

Symbotic’s robots can put any product in any spot on the racks and clock where they are, allowing for denser storage and branching out of the human need for packing conventionally so that we know where products are stored. The robots' software notes where each product is stored, constructing “perfect pallets” organized according to individual supermarkets’ floor plans.

A Symbotic robot traveling on ledges to pick out products in a C&S Wholesale distribution center (Photo Source: Michael Rubenstein/The Wall Street Journal)

With the ability to drop off and retrieve one case of products a minute, about five times as fast as a human on foot, measuring at 28 inches wide, the aisles the bots travel are only slightly wider than conventional warehouses.

Cohen’s vision of robots running warehouses, storing, handling, and hauling goods is one he is looking to bring to some of the U.S.’s biggest grocers and retailers, offering more control on labor, time, and real estate costs.

Packages of grocery products separated in a C&S Wholesale warehouse by fixed in-place robots (Photo Source: Michael Rubenstein/The Wall Street Journal)

Not only is the executive carrying out the technology testing in his own practices as Owner of C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc., but Walmart shared with WSJ that it, too, is testing Symbotic’s system for use in up to two of its large distribution centers, with interest in how the robots allow it to store more products in its warehouses. Walmart also has tested the use of drones in its warehouses, as well.

While the trend continues to rise more rapidly in Europe, stateside stores like Kroger and Meijer are dabbling in it with more possibly on the way. Could Cohen’s vision be the future of retail operations?

We at AndNowUKnow, who are constantly on the watch for both tech and retail trends alike, can’t wait to find out.

Target Symbotic