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CommonSense Robotics’ first automated fulfillment center is now live

Israeli startup CommonSense Robotics is launching its first automated micro-fulfillment center in Tel Aviv. It’s a tiny 6,000 square feet warehouse that is packed from ground to ceiling with products. Robots do the heavy lifting when it comes to getting items ready to dispatch. TechCrunch shot a video of CommonSense Robotics’ test fulfillment center. Today’s new warehouse is much bigger than that, but still much smaller than an Amazon warehouse. The company’s first client is Superpharm, Isarel’s largest drug store chain. The startup wants to convince grocery retailers in urban areas that they can deliver orders in less than an hour. Currently, grocery retailers either leverage their stores (which is a waste of time) or have a giant warehouse outside of the big city. With CommonSense Robotics, you could imagine a city with multiple micro-fulfillment centers so that you’re never too far. When you order something, robots instantly navigate around the warehouse and the shelves to pick up your stuff. A central server coordinates all the robots in real time to optimize the routes. This way, humans can stay at a scanning station and put together an order without having to move. CommonSense Robotics remains in charge of the fulfillment centers. E-commerce retailers pay the startup to create and manage those fulfillment centers. This way, you can focus on your product inventory and last mile deliveries. The company already signed a deal with Israeli grocery retailer Rami Levy for 12 centers. And CommonSense also plans to launch multiple sites in the U.S. in 2019.

Iron Ox opens its first fully autonomous farm

For the last two and a half years, Iron Ox has been working on perfecting its agricultural robots to tend its indoor farms. After first testing its systems on a small scale, the company is opening its first fully autonomous production farm, with plans to start selling its produce soon. The farm is currently growing a number of leafy greens, including romaine, butterhead and kale, in addition to basil, cilantro and chives. The robots tending these plants are Angus, a 1,000-pound machine that can lift and move the large hydroponic boxes in which the produce is growing, and Iron Ox’s robotic arm for harvesting the produce. As Iron Ox co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander told me, the current setup can produce about 26,000 plants per year and is equivalent to a one-acre outdoor farm — though this one is obviously indoors and far more densely packed. Alexander noted that he and his co-founder Jon Binney decided to get into indoor farming after working at a number of other robotics companies — for Alexander, that includes a stint at Google X — where the focus was often more on building cool technologies and not on how those robots could be used. “We’d seen lots of novelty robotics stuff and wanted to avoid that,” he told me. And while the founding team considered getting into warehouse logistics or drones, they eventually settled on farming because, as Alexander tells it, they didn’t just want to build a good business but also one that would create social good. Today, the majority of leafy greens (the kind of produce that Iron Ox focuses on) in the U.S. are grown in California and Arizona — especially during the winter months when it’s colder in the rest of the country. That means a romaine lettuce that’s sold on the East Coast in January has often traveled more than 2,000 miles to get there. “That’s why we switched to indoors,” Alexander said. “We can decentralize the farm.” It also helps that an indoor hydroponic farm can achieve 30 times the yield of an outdoor farm over the course of a…

Vtrus launches drones to inspect and protect your warehouses and factories

Knowing what’s going on in your warehouses and facilities is of course critical to many industries, but regular inspections take time, money, and personnel. Why not use drones? Vtrus uses computer vision to let a compact drone not just safely navigate indoor environments but create detailed 3D maps of them for inspectors and workers to consult, autonomously and in real time. Vtrus showed off its hardware platform — currently a prototype — and its proprietary SLAM (simultaneous location and mapping) software at TechCrunch Disrupt SF as a Startup Battlefield Wildcard company. There are already some drone-based services for the likes of security and exterior imaging, but Vtrus CTO Jonathan Lenoff told me that those are only practical because they operate with a large margin for error. If you’re searching for open doors or intruders beyond the fence, it doesn’t matter if you’re at 25 feet up or 26. But inside a warehouse or production line every inch counts and imaging has to be carried out at a much finer scale. As a result, dangerous and tedious inspections, such as checking the wiring on lighting or looking for rust under an elevated walkway, have to be done by people. Vtrus wouldn’t put those people out of work, but it might take them out of danger. The drone, called the ABI Zero for now, is equipped with a suite of sensors, from ordinary RGB cameras to 360 ones and a structured-light depth sensor. As soon as it takes off, it begins mapping its environment in great detail: it takes in 300,000 depth points 30 times per second, combining that with its other cameras to produce a detailed map of its surroundings. It uses this information to get around, of course, but the data is also streamed over wi-fi in real time to the base station and Vtrus’s own cloud service, through which operators and inspectors can access it. The SLAM technique they use was developed in-house; CEO Renato Moreno built and sold a company (to Facebook/Oculus) using some of the principles, but improvements to imaging and processing power have made it possible…

Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Inokyo wants to be the indie Amazon Go. It’s just launched its prototype cashierless autonomous retail store. Cameras track what you grab from shelves, and with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store, you’re charged for what you got. Inokyo‘s first store is now open on Mountain View’s Castro Street selling an array of bougie kombuchas, snacks, protein powders and bath products. It’s sparse and a bit confusing, but offers a glimpse of what might be a commonplace shopping experience five years from now. You can get a glimpse yourself in our demo video below: “Cashierless stores will have the same level of impact on retail as self-driving cars will have on transportation,” Inokyo co-founder Tony Francis tells me. “This is the future of retail. It’s inevitable that stores will become increasingly autonomous.” Inokyo (rhymes with Tokyo) is now accepting signups for beta customers who want early access to its Mountain View store. The goal is to collect enough data to dictate the future product array and business model. Inokyo is deciding whether it wants to sell its technology as a service to other retail stores, run its own stores or work with brands to improve their product’s positioning based on in-store sensor data on custom behavior. “We knew that building this technology in a lab somewhere wouldn’t yield a successful product,” says Francis. “Our hypothesis here is that whoever ships first, learns in the real world and iterates the fastest on this technology will be the ones to make these stores ubiquitous.” Inokyo might never rise into a retail giant ready to compete with Amazon and Whole Foods. But its tech could even the playing field, equipping smaller businesses with the tools to keep tech giants from having a monopoly on autonomous shopping experiences. It’s about what cashiers do instead “Amazon isn’t as ahead as we assumed,” Francis remarks. He and his co-founder Rameez Remsudeen took a trip to Seattle to see the Amazon Go store that first traded cashiers for cameras in the U.S. Still, they realized, “This experience…

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