Alert Innovation Origin Story

I’m John Lert, I’m the Founder and CEO of Alert Innovation and I’m standing here in our first commercial Alphabot® system. I would like to tell you a little about how this came to be.

I’m an inventor. In the mid-nineties I became very interested in supermarket retailing as an area of innovation. I started thinking about how would I reinvent the supermarket, which has operated the same way for 100 years. This was an industry operating very complex, operating at a very large scale, touching everybody’s lives. I felt that there was a way to reinvent the store through technology how would you do it.

So I first started thinking about the checkout line, because that’s what I hate the most. I started imagining what if machines picked all the packages for people instead of the customers, you wouldn’t have to go through checkout.

Then, I started realizing it was much bigger idea than eliminating checkout, it would fundamentally change how stores worked and eliminate the need for customers to do much of the shopping they do do today.

I started thinking about a store in which, the center store would be automated, machines could pick all the packaged goods and customer would order them on their computers.

Automation is fine for packaged goods because one box of cereal is the same as another but it’s not as true for the fresh market where steak is different from another or one peach is different from another peach.

As a customer, I want to be able to pick those specific items. I don’t want to have to do that but I’d like to be able to have people at the store pick it. I would like to be order electronically or go into the store and pick it myself. That became my organizing idea and when I started realizing that this could be the perfect store for retailers as well, I got very excited.

Then I started studying automation, and I came to the realization that there was no automation on earth that could even come close to doing this. It would require a new type of automation. Is this something I could take on? Is this something that I could do? That’s where the inventor in me became very interested in solving that problem. It’s a very challenging automation problem because create an automation system that can replace the center store that can be inexpensive enough to deploy very broadly, that can be reliable enough that customers always get their products, that can be affordable to be able to deploy to all the stores.

I decided I was going to try to figure out how to automate a supermarket and set out on that journey.

Novastore™ is our vision for the future of supermarkets. Nova means new in Latin so Novastore means a new type of store.

So I started thinking about how to do it. I became interested in mobile robots in 2001. Along the way, I came up with a way to automate case picking and I started a company named Case Pick Systems, which is now Symbotic and I sold my interest in that. Then went back to the idea of each picking of picking individual item units.

In 2013, I started working with my co-founder and co-inventor Bill Fosnight. In 2015, we invented Alphabot essentially as it exists today.

We got our automation ready and in February of 2016, we met with Walmart and they got very excited. Walmart knew that automating fulfillment at the store level would require a new technology. They were out looking for it; they found us.

In five and half months we created a strategic partnership that funded the development for Walmart. Bill and I recruited a world-class team of automation engineers and here we are today, five years later. We have built our first system. We built it in two and a half years.

Now we’re on the verge of deploying at a large scale.

Eventually, we will realize the vision of Novastore. Alphabot will evolve to be able to automate the center store. We will create this new format of the automated supermarket with no self-service center store and an optional self-service fresh market and that will change food retail forever!

This is our opportunity to change the world.

Two-sided Economics of Automation for Instant Delivery

Is Quick Commerce going to eat Grocery’s lunch or is it the other way around?

As instant grocery delivery players like Instacart, DoorDash and GoPuff make stratospheric leaps in the business of “convenience” shopping, the conversation is turning to automation and what role it can play in their businesses. Join us as we look at two sides of the “convenience” conversation – first from the new “Q” Market perspective and then from the grocer’s perspective. We will examine this growing trend of on-demand grocery shopping and the new operational models that fuel them. Each side has lofty goals for profit, and we will investigate the benefits and challenges of both store-level and regional automation for order fulfillment and replenishment.

Originally presented at FMI Midwinter Conference, March 21, 2022

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Alphabot System

 

Online grocery sales surged 40% in 2020, but some grocers faced declining profits and tough choices.

Because manually picking orders is labor intensive, it’s unprofitable to fulfill the growing number of e-grocery orders. Store inventory is constantly changing, resulting in out-of-stock items and substitutions that lead to a poor customer experience. Shoppers are put off by picking carts clogging store aisles. It’s no longer feasible to manually pick orders from shelves.

Automated e-grocery fulfillment systems such as micro-fulfillment centers and customer fulfillment centers are the answer to e-grocery profitability and customer satisfaction. But what solution is best?

You need a solution that is designed for efficient e-grocery order fulfillment. You need to know that the solution you buy today won’t be obsolete in a couple of years. And you need a reliable system that comes with the experience, support and scale of a long-term partner.

I started thinking about automating supermarkets 25 years ago. Novastore is our vision for the future of supermarkets. We started with the fact that our mission is to automate the grocery store. We started from the ground up by solving the specific problems of automation at store level.

Introducing the Alphabot® System by Alert Innovation
Driven by John’s vision, the Alphabot System by Alert Innovation delivers the throughput and reliability needed to efficiently fulfill e-grocery orders from online ordering to customer pickup. But we’re just on the beginning of our innovation journey.

With over 50 patents applied for, the Alphabot System is future-proof by design. That translates into an ongoing competitive advantage, continuous improvement, and revenue growth for your retail operation.

Let’s take a deeper look at the Alphabot System.

The passive Alphabot storage structure is scalable for different real-estate and product assortment requirements. There are no moving parts in the Alphabot storage structure for maximum reliability and lowest maintenance costs.

At the heart of our system are the Alphabot robots, omni-directional, battery-free robots that charge on the fly for maximum system uptime and safety. Because the robot is the only moving part with various travel paths, there is no single point of failure. To increase order throughput, you simply add more robots.

This unique architecture stores individual items for picking and finished orders in integrated ambient, frozen and refrigerated temperature zones.

The Alphabot System ensures product quality, safety and cold chain compliance. It makes it easy to automatically consolidate and dispense orders for near immediate delivery with 95% of orders going from order to pickup in 12 minutes or less. The labor savings delivered from storing completed orders in the system and auto-dispensing them, delivers 40% more return on investment than traditional picking systems that rely on expensive secondary storage and manual order consolidation.

Within the storage structure, totes and subtotes allow maximum assortment high storage density and precise inventory control while saving labor.

The input output workstations, where products enter and exit the Alphabot System, use a simple interface and multiple sensors to minimize training needs and maximize rate of decant and order dispense. Alphabot Robots present inventory to store associates at the picking workstation to fulfill customer orders these stations operate at eight to ten times the manual pick rate with multiple sensors and software features to ensure picking accuracy.

The warehouse control system is the software backbone that controls the Alphabot System. We developed this proprietary software that provides easy integration to third-party applications and your enterprise systems.

Our unique self-service auto dispense portals allow shoppers to pick up their orders curbside without associate involvement this additional level of Alphabot System automation further reduces your e-grocery operational costs and simplifies order pickups for shoppers eliminating last mile delivery

We’re focused on much more than just the technology. We’re focused on delivering value to customers beyond the technology. For example, we have 24-hour remote monitoring. We have training programs. We have a program called Alert Academy. We built a network of third-party service providers to help in planning systems and installing systems commissioning systems, as well as, after after installation service support.

Walmart knew that automating fulfillment at store level would require a new technology. They were out looking for it they found us and it’s been a great partnership from the very beginning.

Contact us to learn how the Alphabot System can help you deliver profitable e-grocery orders to satisfied shoppers.

Novastore - Supermarket of the Future

Imagine a store that removes the drudgery of grocery shopping. A store that’s about experiences and fresh.

We didn’t just imagine it, we’re building the automation to make it a reality. We call it Novastore™.

Novastore is all about what shoppers like about shopping, fresh food and store experiences.

Center store items are removed letting fresh items and open sight lines take center stage.

Novastore offers more of an inviting, healthy, fresh market feel. By removing center store items, this selling space is about half of what it was. This lets the expanded Novastore fresh department offer more inviting color and variety.

Kiosks let shoppers place orders in store and handle cashier-less checkout. Shoppers can also use kiosks to get recipe recommendations or order meal kits.

Novastore is also about experiences. A chef can give cooking instructions, offer recipe ideas, or offer samples.
You might even find that some of your shoppers are already Novastore shoppers. They’re making larger than normal online purchases but still visiting the store for fresh purchases. They’ve already adopted a Novastore shopping profile.

Since Novastore is about experiences, the expertise of your store associates will be even more important. Shoppers will want guidance on which meals to select, how to prepare or season seafood, the cheeses or breads that work well with their other menu items.

Shoppers still want and need their center store items. In a Novastore, they can order online or in store for pick-up or delivery. They don’t have to trudge through aisles to select what they know by label.

While a Novastore has a smaller selling footprint, it sells more per square foot and makes more money. This isn’t Novastore magic. It happens because a Novastore uses automation to fulfill orders for center store items. These items are moved to a locations atop or adjacent to fresh sales floor.

A visit to the Alphabot system can be another Novastore shopper experience. Shoppers can visit and watch the Alphabot robots automatically fill their grocery orders.

By lowering labor costs for order fulfillment, the Alphabot system makes store-level ecommerce profitable in a Novastore.

The Alphabot’s 3-D architecture and higher order fulfillment rate delivers more sales per square foot more profitably than a similar sized center store footprint.

To keep labor costs low and make it easy for shoppers, Novastore even includes an auto-dispense capability. Shoppers pull up, scan a code, and Alphabot robots bring their grocery order straight to their car.

You don’t have to imagine a store that shoppers enjoy shopping, or a store that makes ecommerce order fulfillment profitable. Your shoppers are already shopping that way and we’ve started implementing the technology that makes Novastore a reality.