Robots in the warehouse: how Ocado is becoming a leader in the automation of retail
The reputation of Ocado as being a weird-Waitrose-delivery-service-but-not-Waitrose is changing. It's been a slow burn since its creation during the dot com era, but the company is now doing a great job with what is becoming its core business: a retail automation dynamo.
A glimpse into Ocado's Andover warehouse is, perhaps, a glimpse into all our futures in terms of retail automation:
[Humans] work in a number of key positions in the warehouse which are also, if you know what to look for, technological bottlenecks. Robots can't yet unpack the wide variety of bulk deliveries that arrive in Andover every day; nor can they speedily move pallets around a busy warehouse on forklifts. And although they can't yet handle bags of oranges (or any other delicate, or irregularly shaped items), Ocado is working on a solution.James Vincent
Placed — somewhat insensitively some might say — next to the picking stations crewed by humans, is an experimental booth where a robot arm is learning to do what comes naturally to its fleshy colleagues. Namely, picking items out of crates and putting them in shopping bags. The arm is equipped with a suction cup, which is great for grabbing hold of objects with stiff, flat surfaces, like cans and cartons, but still can't deal with more delicate items. For that, Ocado is developing a soft robotic hand that uses rubber fingers filled with pressurized air. Watching it grasp a lime is an unsettling experience, with its synthetic fingers curling around the fruit like pythons.