Alphabot® technology powers the industry’s most capital-efficient, scalable, and adaptable Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) and Automated Each-Picking System. At its heart is a mobile robot uniquely able to operate in all three dimensions within a multilevel storage structure. A fleet of these robots operates within a given system under the control of a single Warehouse Control System. Because the robots are the only moving parts in an Alphabot ASRS – there are no lifts, conveyors, or any other material-handling mechanism – the system is highly reliable and capital-efficient.
The history of Alert Innovation can be traced back to a thought experiment in 1994, when inventor John Lert began thinking about how to use technology to create the “perfect” supermarket. He imagined a store in which machines pick customers’ orders for center-store items, but customers still pick their own fresh goods, with no checkout line. Learn more about the origin of Alert Innovation in this video.
The Alphabot robot is uniquely able to transform itself from a mobile robot operating in two horizontal dimensions into a vertical lift, moving itself and its payload to any storage or workstation elevation, where it can then resume horizontal operation.
These capabilities make Alphabot the most cost-effective, reliable, and space-efficient goods-to-picker technology ever created.
How the Alphabot Goods-to-Picker Process Works
- A bot brings a product tote containing up to eight products to the workstation for picking.
- A second bot comes to the workstation with an order tote containing three empty shopping bags.
- A human or robotic picker transfers goods from the product tote to the order tote.
- The Master Control System continues flowing additional bots carrying product totes through the workstation to contribute to each order.
- When each order is filled, another bot delivers a new empty order tote for the next order.
- Totes are sequenced according to business rules set by the retailer, such as heavy items on the bottom, crushable items on top, and no mixing of chemical and food products in same bag.
- Each order tote picked by Alphabot is stored in the correct temperature zone until ready to be automatically consolidated and dispensed.
- Order totes picked manually in the store – for example, meat, fish and vegetables sold as variable weight product – are inducted into Alphabot and stored in the correct temperature zone.
- When the customer (or delivery vehicle) arrives, the consolidated order is dispensed within a few minutes.
Alphabot® Technology Comparison
Alphabot’s omnidirectional, mobile robot-based approach delivers measurable advantages over traditional fixed automation solutions, such as 1D and 2D shuttles, as well as cubed ASRS systems that place all bot traffic on a single level.
|Technology||1D Shuttle||2D Shuttle||Cubed ASRS||Alphabot®|
|No “captivity” of throughput assets|
|No lifts or conveyors|
|Random-access storage (not serial)|
|No single point of failure|
|Storage density (at any ceiling height)|
|Speed of fulfillment|
|3-temp cold chain integrity|
The Alphabot® Structure
Alphabot bots in an each-picking system operate within a structure composed of four components:
- Storage modules hold empty totes in storage. The bots can move linearly and at relatively high velocity within this space.
- Tower modules contain vertical tracks that the bots use to move vertically.
- Transit Planes provide a horizontal surface for bots to move two-dimensionally to access aisles and workstations.
- Picking workstations are where pickers transfer items from product totes to order totes to complete each order.
Each Alphabot tote measures 600mm (23.62 in.) x 400mm (15.75 in.) x 300mm (11.81 in.) with a weight capacity of 26 kg (57.3 lbs.). Capacity is 55.4 liters (14.6 gal). An inner-container, or “sub-tote,” can be used to maximize SKU density and fill rate. This allows the tote’s storage volume to be divided among multiple different SKUs. In addition to the full tote, there are 1/2-tote, 1/3-tote, 1/6-tote, and 1/8-tote sub-totes.
The sub-totes are designed to be handled by a robotic arm. One application of this capability is to install a robotic arm in each system to perform “defragmentation” – that is, aggregating all empty sub-totes together to be sent out for refilling, thereby maximizing fill rate in storage.
Alphabot can increase picking labor productivity by a factor of 10x over manual picking from store shelves. The picking workstation takes advantage of the bot’s vertical capability by having it enter the workstation from a lower deck, ascend into transfer position in front of the picker, and then exit to an upper deck. This design allows for a high rate of flow of robots and totes through the workstation, as well as nearly ideal ergonomics for the picker. To ensure accuracy, the workstation controller uses an overhead projector to illuminate both the pick and put locations (pick-to-light and put-to-light), and sensors detect the location of the picker’s hand when making a pick or a put. Since the bots move vertically, workstations can be arrayed at multiple vertical elevations, enabling unprecedented space efficiency in high-throughput systems.
Input/Output workstations perform several functions: decanting (replenishment of product); induction of empty order-totes with or without bags; induction of store-picked fresh goods to be consolidated; and dispensing of orders.
Like a conventional shuttle robot, Alphabot robots operate within a storage structure, running linearly within storage lanes on rails that also act as beams to support stored totes of products to be picked. Also like shuttle robots, Alphabot robots transfer totes between their payload bays and storage locations. Unlike a shuttle robot but like many other mobile robots, an Alphabot robot can travel in x/y horizontal dimensions on a planar surface such as a floor or deck. However, unlike any other robot, an Alphabot robot can also move vertically in the z-dimension to any elevation within the structure and then transition back to moving horizontally at that elevation. It is a true “transformer” robot; at any vertical elevation, the robot can transition between being a mobile robot and a lift, or vice versa.
Alphabot is leading a Walmart supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire into the future. Its goal? To revolutionize the online grocery pickup and delivery process for associates and customers.