If you aren’t utilizing a service that delivers your groceries to your door now, you most likely will use one in the future. Thanks to automation, you won’t have to cast your mind to the nonexistent workers that are packaging all of your groceries up for you - because all of the workers will be robots.
If it sounds like a persuasive brochure from a futuristic sci-fi novel, it isn’t. It’s already happening. Ocado warehouse in Hampshire, England, utilizes hundreds of robots on a metal grid, speedily transferring groceries from holding cell to packet to your front door. And we have engineers to thank for that.
The warehouse where the robots perform their gymnastics is completely unmanned. Pick-and-place robots are abundant, carefully lifting and then putting down items that will be shipped to the demanding customer.
It is all made possible through an automated solution named the Ocado Smart Platform Automated Fulfilment Solution. The graphical representation of what is going on in the computers’ brains as it fulfills an order looks like this:
The whole robotic ‘ecosystem’ is orchestrated through a 4G-based wireless protocol system that is running the whole system in real-time and can optimize the operation on-the-fly. The company says the system is the most advanced system for logistics in the world.
Thousands of little specks on a digitized warehouse blueprint map show what the robots see - items ready to be fetched and delivered. It is called a resource map.
440 other specks (the robots) then need to travel into the interior of the warehouse and pick the items up. The 4G network makes the magic happen - it communicates at 10 interactions per second with each robot.
The robots need to know where to be at the appropriate time. The system can handle 3 million routing calculations per second. Something that quantum computing, upon its arrival, will more than quadruple. It is an ecosystem of robotic automation, working in complete harmony - something human workforces are hard pressed to perfect.
Talking about efficiency, the grid that Ocado has designed ensures that all possible warehouse floor space is utilized so that there is no wasting of resources whatsoever. The company says that the grid can be retrofitted into existing warehouses.
The robots themselves can carry tens of kilograms and can move at several meters per second - there is no doubt that the robots are efficient. They are so efficient they have dubbed their robot battalion a ‘swarm’ of robots. Traversing a grid the size of several football fields, the robots communicate via a cloud-based solution and continually generate data that gets plugged into an analytics program named BigQuery.
It is a data and communications tour de force. Experts say the data communications network the company is running is the first of its kind and is the ‘first deployment of unlicensed 4G spectrum for warehouse automation’. The warehouse can handle up to 1,100 robots.
Thus, it is a glimpse of the not too distant future for all warehouses.
However, Ocado isn’t the only company utilizing robots in warehouses. Amazon has a staggering 45,000 robots currently whizzing around in 20 fulfillment centers - grabbing the relevant items customers have ordered, and transporting it to the delivery departments. From 2016 to 2017, they doubled the number of robots that was working for them. Amazon purchased the robot company Kiva Systems in 2012, and has been using warehouse robots ever since.
It is no secret, automation is replacing the pick-and-place workers in warehouses. What has been kept secret are the incredible data communications systems in place to ensure the most efficiency for a warehouse. Companies are looking to automate more efficiently than the next company, and it seems Ocado - with their own novel software and systems - is pulling ahead.
“Ocado's Robot Swarm.” New Electronics, 23 May 2018, www.newelectronics.co.uk/electronics-news/ocados-robot-swarm/174218/.
Shead, Sam. “Amazon Now Has 45,000 Robots in Its Warehouses.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 3 Jan. 2017, uk.businessinsider.com/amazons-robot-army-has-grown-by-50-2017-1?IR=T.