If you follow the logistics space, you’ve probably heard of fulfillment — the completion of an order from the point of sale to final delivery. You’ve probably even heard of microfulfillment, which takes the process to the next level by using a network of tiny warehouses and back rooms to reduce lead times.
But some companies are thinking even smaller.
1MRobotics, a fledgling technology startup that emerged from stealth on Monday, wants to usher in the era of “nanofulfillment.” Courtesy of a $16.5 million Series A round led by Ibex Investors and a previously undisclosed seed round, the company is strutting onto the scene with $25 million in hand to build a plug-and-play network of fully automated dark stores.
The idea of dark stores — warehouses used to facilitate click-and-collect orders — is nothing new, but 1MRobotics distinguishes itself as a “nanofulfillment-center-as-a-service” provider. The startup’s key advantage is the ability to quickly stand up robot-powered dark stores that require minimal maintenance. That’s a departure from the typical model, which relies on human capital.
“Manual dark stores simply don’t cut it anymore and [1MRobotics] serves as a clear catalyst to the adoption of fulfillment technology,” Eyal Yair, the company’s co-founder and CEO, told TechCrunch. “1MRobotics does something magical: enabling a hyperlocal, fully-automated fulfillment network that’s a magnitude better in service level, significantly better for ESG and costs less than legacy regional next-day fulfillment solutions. This is the holy grail of product distribution.”
This isn’t Yair’s first rodeo. Prior to co-founding 1MRobotics with Roee Tuval, he started and sold CartCrunch, a grocery e-commerce startup, and Netonomy, a cybersecurity firm.
He pointed out that 1MRobotics’ platform, small warehouses equipped with fleets of robots, can be installed nearly anywhere. And because the AI-powered system learns from supply-and-demand patterns, it automatically optimizes the positioning of stock without the need for human oversight.
1MRobotics offers two core solutions. One is Genesis, an automated system designed with retail and consumer packaged goods brands in mind and compact enough to fit inside a shipping container. The other is Flexsis, which is geared toward convenience retail and quick commerce. The main difference is that Flexsis is better suited to handle diversified inventory.
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Rapid delivery apps like Gopuff and Getir deploy a similar solution, using networks of small fulfillment centers to position inventory as close to the end consumer as possible. But those facilities typically rely on human pickers.
A better comparison might be Fabric, a logistics unicorn that operates automated microfulfillment centers in three cities. The company recently pivoted from a service provider to a platform, laying off 40% of its workforce amid the shift. Another close relative is AutoStore, which fulfills orders using warehouses with automated storage and retrieval systems.
As customers seek more and more convenience, Gal Gitter, a partner at Ibex Investors, predicts that dark stores and microfulfillment centers will need to become automated to meet those expectations.
“The next decade will be marked with consumers continuing to demand convenience, expecting retailers and brands to supply their favorite products faster and faster,” Gitter said. “However, nearly all existing last-mile facilities are manual today, with many operating quite inefficiently. This is where 1MRobotics comes in — providing plug-and-play full automation for last-mile fulfillment across nearly any category, while reducing cost and associated environmental impact.”