Automation company Attabotics shrinks the typical sprawling warehouse into compact, vertical units, using robots to ferry items from shelves to box packers. “I asked myself, What [layout] would be ideal for a robot, not a person?” says cofounder and CEO Scott Gravelle. Attabotics’s system is in six locations across North America, including food and beverage and medical supply facilities; in 2019, the company announced a partnership with Nordstrom to build a 340,000-square-foot warehouse, down from the company’s typical 1.5 million (or more) square feet. The intent, Gravelle says, is to put fulfillment centers in smaller spaces, closer to customers, while easing the burden on workers and reducing commerce’s carbon footprint.
Ideal for robots
Attabotics’s container-wielding bots navigate each storage unit from above. To retrieve items, they drop through empty columns, place their container on an empty shelf, and pick up another container on the way down. After ferrying the item to a box packer on the border of the unit, the bots return to the top.
Traditional “pick and pack” warehouses rely on humans to retrieve items, requiring miles of space to accommodate low-slung shelving units. Attabotics’s robots allow clients to stack product closer together and higher up, reducing warehouse space by 85% on average.
Cues from nature
Gravelle says he was inspired to build the system while watching a nature documentary about leaf-cutter ants, which build their colonies vertically underground.
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A version of this article appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of Fast Company magazine.