Alert Innovation Origin Story

I’m John Lert, I’m the Founder 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.