Ocado Group is a company that develops software, robotics, and automation systems. They host an online supermarket where people can input their grocery list, and the company will deliver it to them.
According to MailOnline, Ocado uses 3,000 robots in their automated warehouse in London for faster online grocery shopping.
These washing machine-like robots travel along a grid inside the 536,000 square foot warehouse and are controlled by an artificial intelligence air traffic controller. They move along the warehouse, passing within a fraction from each other to grab items and prepare them to be delivered in a process that could take up only 15 minutes with 99% accuracy.
Alex Harvey, Ocado's chief of advanced technology, said that their goal is to fully become automated and have items be delivered to the customers without a single human touch. He hopes to have a warehouse that is fully operated by robots from receiving, picking up the items, and delivering orders.
How Do Ocado Process Orders Before?
Paul Clarke, Ocado's chief technology officer, said that orders are processed in a roughly linear fashion where humans are still involved in the process in the past. For instance, deliveries were unpacked into crates that were placed onto conveyors. Then, it carries the crates to shelves where humans take what they need to fill the orders.
However, the company used a new paradigm in 2018 wherein items were placed in crates that are algorithmically stored in huge stacks of up to 17 boxes high, The Verge reported. Frequently used items are placed at the top, while rare purchases are placed near the bottom.
Robots use their claws to grab crates, pull them up into their interior, move the crates to a new location, or drop them down a vertical chute to a picking station. Then human employees will grab items from the crate and place them in a shopping bag to be delivered to customers.
But the process has improved after a few years as they now mostly use robots to fulfill an order.
How Do Ocado Robots Work?
CNN reported that the fleet of 3,000 robots in the warehouse of Ocado is powered by automation technology that moves on top of the grid-like pieces on a chessboard. Beneath each square is a 21 container-deep stacked on top of each other filled with some of the 50,000 items Ocado is offering.
The robots work as soon as the warehouse receives an order. They will immediately head towards the container which has the required item, passing only five millimeters away from each other. Harvey said that it is like playing chicken, where they stop at the last minute before colliding.
The robots are controlled by an artificial intelligence air traffic control that plans their routes. Each of them has a grabbing mechanism that enables them to pick up a container. For instance, when an item they need is five containers down, four robots would pick up the containers above it so that a "hero" robot can fulfill an order.
The hero robot then takes the container to a picking station where a person or another robot will select the item and add it to the order. Then the finished order will be moved by robots to the delivery van.
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