Ocado is a UK on-line grocery serving customers in England since 2002. Over these 16 years it grew significantly serving today some 560,000 customers making it the largest on line grocery store.
In the on-line business, even more than in the brick and mortar, it is crucial to be efficient and Ocado has developed, and it is now starting operating, the Hive a completely automated warehouse, managed by over 1,000 robots (see clip) that will handle some 65,000 orders per week involving over 3.5 million packages once fully operational.
The robots in the hive get the grocery from the delivery pods place them into crates and move the crate to a location in the warehouse that is decided by an algorithm taking into account the probability that a specific items will be ordered along with another one. This makes the retrieval more efficient since when another robot will be asked to fulfil an order it will have to travel a shorter path to close it. Notice that all robots used in the warehouse are exactly the same so that if one breaks down another can take its place with no disruption. In addition, this uniformity makes for volume (decreases cost) and makes maintenance much easier.
Each single robot is not particularly smart, it just need to go where it is asked to go and pick up the exact amount of grocery and bring it to the delivery point. However, all together, the robots create a very smart team that minimises the number of activities required, thus saving time and energy. Read the article on the Verge to get all the details.
The ultimate goal is to replace all human labour with robots, however Ocado is pointing out that humans are still needed, and they give as an example something I would have never considered: handling oranges.
I never had any problem in picking up oranges from crates at my supermarket and placing them in a bag. It seems that for a robot picking up oranges it’s tricky. They tend to roll away and the robot cannot put too much pressure unless the goal is to get orange juice!
Well, it is good to see that at least for handling oranges we are a tad better than robots!