Attabotics has filed a patent infringement lawsuit in the United States District Court of Massachusetts against Urbx. Both companies develop a goods-to-person (G2P) solution based upon an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS). Both companies are pursuing the lucrative grocery automation market, which includes the opportunity to fulfill customer orders curb-side and in what’s known as “click and collect”.
The lawsuit claims Urbx’s current product, which consists of a dual-robot system, infringes on multiple patents held by Attabotics. Attabotics is seeking appropriate relief, including a permanent injunction and damages.
The Mobile Robot Guide reached out to both companies while researching this story, but neither company has responded to our inquiries. We will update this story if we learn more.
Attabotics, which is based in Calgary, Canada, was founded in 2015 by Jacques LaPointe, Rob Cowley, Scott Gravelle and Tony Woolf. The company has received total funding of $117.4M, according to Crunchbase, with the most recent round in December 2020. The company lists 243 employees on LinkedIn.
Attabotics does most of its own manufacturing and machining of its systems in western Canada. Its customers include luxury department store Nordstrom and other retailers across apparel, food and beverage, and home goods.
Attabotics is aggressive in its patent filing and was recently granted a number of patents for its solutions (the most recent was in May 2021). The Attabotics portfolio of patents currently consists of these seven patents:
- Patent 11,008,166 – Storage and retrieval systems sharing a common robotic fleet between a storage grid and external workstations
- Patent 11,008,165 – Storage and retrieval system with shaft-traversing tracks
- Patent 10,961,054 – Storage and retrieval systems performing internal sortation by orchestrated navigation of storage grid robots to workstation intake points
- Patent 10,913,641 – Storage units and robotic storage/retrieval vehicles for a three-dimensional storage system
- Patent 10,906,739 – Storage/retrieval vehicle with variable footprint size
- Patent 10,604,343 – Storage and retrieval system
- Patent 10,336,540 – Storage and retrieval system
Attabotics markets itself as a “3D storage company.” It offers an ASRS solution that ingests bins of items and uses “autonomous shuttles” to take the bin and store it into a three-dimensional array, contained within a huge, multi-level structure.
There are a number of ASRS companies that store totes/bins in a three-dimensional array, including companies such as AutoStore, Fabric, Alert Innovation and Urbx. We generally describe these solutions as “cube-based ASRS” or cASRS solutions. cASRS systems offer the highest density of item storage possible, within a warehouse.
Attabotics also envisions multiple temperature cube racking, that effectively stores products at the appropriate temperature (room temperature, refrigerated and frozen goods).
Boston-based Urbx was founded in 2019 by Jonathan Lin. The bootstrapped company currently has an undisclosed amount of angel funding. It is currently not listed on Crunchbase.
A quick search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office database returned no existing patents for either Urbx or Lin. This doesn’t mean there aren’t patents pending for Urbx or Lin, however. Again, we reached out to Urbx, but the company has not responded.
Urbx offers several variations of its system, depending on the application at hand, all of which employ this dual-robot system:
- TowerBot: essentially a gantry-like robot that moves up and down a set column in the storage cube to retrieve a bin/tote from one of four directions. It pulls the bin/tote into the empty space of the column and then lowers it down to the floor onto a waiting GridBot.
- Gridbot: essentially an AMR that runs around underneath the cube storage and receives a bin from the TowerBot.
The Urbx Curb solution, for example, is expected to launch in 2022. The company wants its Urbx Market solution to become the world’s first “automated store.” Urbx is designing and engineering an automated “click and collect” solution for grocers and consumer goods.
The design of the Urbx system centers around a top mounted TowerBot that acquires bins and lowers them onto the waiting GridBot, as shown in the following video:
This simulation showcases Urbx’s vision about the future of shopping:
Obviously Attabotics and Urbx are pursuing the same market and their solution designs are similar in purpose. We’ll have to wait for the lawsuit to play out, but this could be a “David-vs-Goliath” situation as Attabotics is much larger and better funded than Urbx.
And this isn’t the only patent infringement lawsuit currently playing out in the ASRS space.
AutoStore and Ocado have involved in a legal battle since October 2020 over a series of patent infringement disputes. AutoStore is arguing that its system is the foundation of the technology used by Ocado. AutoStore, which recently sold a 40% stake to Softbank for $2.5 billion, is attempting to block Ocado’s expansion into the U.S. and other locations.
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