Consumer products e-retailer Boxed has unveiled the next generation of its autonomously guided vehicle system, introduced last fall, in a Dallas fulfillment center.
The AGVs are designed to autonomously roam the aisles of Boxed's fulfillment centers, relieving order pickers of the need to manually locate and transport items, the company said in a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
Boxed developed the AGV hardware and software in-house in nine months, the company said. They’re built at the Union, New Jersey facility, cost about $6,000 each, can be easily upgraded and make it possible for Boxed to quickly develop a fulfillment center that can handle up to $100 million in order volume.
Each Boxed AGV is named after a member of Wu-Tang Clan, adored by Boxed CEO and co-founder Chieh Huang. (No word on whether the first one was RZA or Ghostface Killah.)
Beyond that, the company said that the system can be easily upgraded and implemented, enabling it to rapidly respond to surges in consumer demand. It's part of a wider dedication to an automation endeavor to make fulfillment speedier and more responsive. The company made headlines last year when it first automated a New Jersey fulfillment center, retaining employees for other jobs there.
Development of the AGV-led system sprang from Boxed's efforts to replicate the efficiency of conveyer belt automation at a fraction of the cost, Boxed CTO Will Fong told Retail Dive last year. "Once we saw that creating an AGV was feasible, at the end of July we dedicated a two-person team to it full time," he said in an October email.
E-commerce continues to challenge all players, which are under pressure to speed up operations and contain costs, and automation and robotics have emerged as important ways to accomplish that. With shipping costs rising at least as much as retail sales, Amazon has thousands of robots at work in its fulfillment centers and has continued to push for the development of new order-picking robots. Two years ago, Hudson's Bay Co. announced a robot-supported distribution center near Toronto that uses automated distribution technology to improve e-commerce fulfillment and in late 2016, said those systems would be expanded to its U.S. distribution center to support fast-rising e-commerce sales.
That doesn't mean that Boxed will remain a pure-play e-commerce operation, however. In January at NRF's Big Show Huang said that brick-and-mortar stores are "absolutely" in its future, and Huang noted then that Walmart's closure of several Sam's Club stores could be "excellent for us."