Ocado

The world’s largest online food retailer gets its food from giant robotic grocery warehouses – take a look

Located outside Birmingham, one of Ocado’s warehouses measures…

Located outside Birmingham, one of Ocado's warehouses measures 350,000 square feet and ships over 1.3 million food items per day to people's doors.

It does this with the help of automated conveyor belts,…

It does this with the help of automated conveyor belts, cranes, shuttles, and other machines. They transport orange plastic bins around the warehouse at high speeds.

Ocado

When a customer orders groceries through Ocado’s site,…

When a customer orders groceries through Ocado’s site, human workers pick food off shelves along a 330-foot aisle. They then place them into the bins ...

… which a 82,000-footlong network of conveyors is constantly…

… which a 82,000-footlong network of conveyors is constantly replenishing. Very little legwork is required from the human workers.

Everything is controlled by an artificially intelligent…

Everything is controlled by an artificially intelligent system, which is constantly collecting data and making the warehouse more efficient in real-time. For example, if it senses that the shelves are running low on yogurt, it will make sure an automatic crane re-stocks boxes of it immediately from the back.

By scanning barcodes, the warehouse’s system makes sure a customer’s order includes everything, and the conveyors bring it to the delivery trucks.

Most of the food, like sushi or strawberries, is perishable…

Most of the food, like sushi or strawberries, is perishable and need to be delivered to customers quickly. In Ocado’s newest facility near London, it takes under 10 minutes for food to go from the shelf to the truck.

This warehouse uses bots that pick the food, and cut down…

This warehouse uses bots that pick the food, and cut down the time it would take for a human to search for the right items. They look like this:

The bots work together in a system called “the hive.” They…

The bots work together in a system called “the hive.” They move on top of the hive, and have claws that pick up food items below. Then the items go to a human picker, who puts them in the bins.

The company, partnering with several European universities,…

The company, partnering with several European universities, is also developing robotic arms that can pick food.

The bot’s hand has a soft touch, so it won’t bruise bananas…

The bot’s hand has a soft touch, so it won’t bruise bananas or crack eggs.

GIF SoMa robotic arm picking an apple Ocado

Right now, the team has only developed an arm. The full…

Right now, the team has only developed an arm. The full robot looks something like this:

“The Ocado Group is a net employer of more than 12,000…

“The Ocado Group is a net employer of more than 12,000 people, none of whom (including myself) would have a job if it hadn't been for the automation and robotics we're developing in-house,” Clarke says.

Some economists say automation poses a largre threat to human jobs. A 2015 McKinsey report predicts that existing technology could replace 45% of work activities — especially those in warehouses.

The company is working to make the bots and control system…

The company is working to make the bots and control system even more efficient. “Because of the scale and speed at which our warehouses operate, we are able to deliver fresher food, faster,” Clarke says.

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