Ocado is the first major UK groceries supplier to pick and pack items of food and other household supplies using only robots.
The company, which sells its own brand goods alongside Waitrose’s, has adopted the packing robots to help process the 65,000 orders it gets through a week to its Andover warehouse.
Their purpose is to collect crates of food a customer has ordered and then deliver them to humans, who then take the items needed to complete the order and sends the crates back to the robots, communicating via an unlicensed 4G signal, developed by Ocado. The humans pack the orders into vans, ready to be taken to their customers.
The crates are all stacked on top of each other, but if a robot needs to access one on the bottom, other robots will arrive to move those in the way, so the picking robot can get to the one it needs. The helpers then place the crates where they were so they can easily be found next time.
The crates are all grouped together by product type, making it a super-organised warehouse and the robots are programmed to know where everything is.
Although the robots do have obstacle avoidance integrated into them, if there is an accident, recovery vehicles come to rescue them as humans are not allowed in the fenced off area while other robots are working.
“People are increasingly becoming aware that robots and AI are behind many of the services they are starting to use,” Ocado chief technology officer Paul Clarke told the BBC.
“I think they would be surprised to see the scale of the automation that we bring to bear in order to do something that looks relatively mundane like having your groceries delivered.”