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The Hive doesn’t need humans… but for oranges!

Robots are taking care 24 hours a day of the Ocado warehouse in Andover, UK, managing 3.5 million packages every week. Credit: Ocado

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!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

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