Online grocery firm Ocado has taken delivery of a prototype collaborative robot designed to help maintain systems in its highly automated warehouses.
The ARMAR-6 robot prototype was developed by engineers through the EU funded SecondHands project – an initiative involving a number of partners including Ocado, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and University College London (UCL).
A spokesperson from Ocado said exclusively to The Manufacturer about the robot prototype: “Our automation systems have evolved dramatically since we started to a point now where we have the ability to process a customer order in our Andover fulfilment centre in a matter of minutes.
“Our warehouse automation systems are designed to improve the typical logistics processes in a warehouse and thus we are able to reduce waste, we minimize inaccuracies, and we drive up quality.
“Offering a better customer proposition was a big driver: having such advanced automation systems means we can have good control of the stock. we can offer the one-hour delivery slots to our customers, and much more.
“Generally speaking, automation has helped us improve the efficiency of the operation significantly.”
Ocado’s next investment steps
Ocado has already several new robotics research projects in progress, for example SOMA, which is an EU sponsored initiative that aims to design a robotic hand that can pick and pack fragile items with accuracy and precision.
SecondHands is another Horizon 2020 project where Ocado is partnering with leading universities to build a robot capable of helping our technicians maintain and repair the hardware in the warehouse.
An Ocado spokesperson said: “Finally, we have another project in development where we’ve created a unique computer vision algorithm to help us pick and pack grocery items using a simple mechanical arm.”
“It’s crucial to find partners with a vision”
Asking about obstacles in the process of implementing the new technology, a company’s spokesperson said: “We have had to build all these systems and technologies from scratch because nothing was available in the market but also because we knew they would give us a competitive advantage.
“One challenge when you’re building new systems is finding partners who understand your vision and have the technical capability to help you deliver.
“Another obstacle is recruiting clever engineers who can help you solve some of the most challenging problems in your (or any) industry.
“The engineering pool is very limited at the moment and with robotics and AI coming into focus, a lot of companies are competing to hire talent.
“This is why we’ve created the Code for Life project and joined the Year of Engineering campaign to help inspire more young people into an engineering career and thus close the current skills gap.”