How robots are taking over warehouse work

How robots are taking over warehouse work

Shoppers may not give much thought to what happens next when they place a grocery order online.

But it sparked a complicated dance of software, artificial intelligence, robots, vans and workers.

In the Ocado warehouse outside Luton, I was in the middle of such a dance.

As far as I could see, hundreds of robots circled the grid, picking up items for online ordering. They move with dizzying speed and precision.

In the early days of online shopping, when you placed an order, humans would crowd around the warehouse or store collecting your items.

But for years now, Ocado has used robots to collect and distribute products, bringing them to staff, who pack them into boxes for delivery.

And Ocado is not the only firm investing in such automation.

In its warehouses, Asda uses systems from Swiss automation firm Swisslog and Norway’s AutoStore. In the US, Walmart has automated parts of its supply chain using robotics from an American company called Symbotic.

Back in Luton, Ocado has taken its automation processes to the next level.

Robots that zoom around the grid, now bring items to the robot’s hands, which reach out and pick up what they need for the customer’s store.

Bags of rice, boxes of tea, packages of crumpets are all grabbed by the arm using a suction cup at the end.

It may seem like a trivial addition, but training a robot to recognize items, grab them successfully, and move them, is extremely difficult.

At Ocado, around 100 engineers have spent years training artificial intelligence (AI) to do the job.

James Matthews, chief executive of Ocado Technology explained that AI needs to interpret the information coming from its camera.

“What is an object? Where are the edges of the object? How can one understand it?”

In addition, the AI needs to find a way to move the arm. “How can I pick it up and sprint in a way without throwing it across the room? How can I put it in the bag?” She spoke.

The Luton warehouse has 44 robotic arms, which currently account for 15% of the products flowing through the facility, which is around 400,000 items a week. The rest are handled by staff at the polling station.

Employees handle items that robots aren’t ready for yet, such as wine bottles that are heavy and have curved surfaces, making them difficult to grip.

But the system is improving. The company is developing different attachments for robot arms that will allow them to handle a wider variety of items.

“We just play carefully and slowly from time to time,” Mr Matthews said. “It’s a deliberate constraint on our part, so we continue to provide good service to the public, rather than custard cream being crushed in every order, or worse, putting stuff on a track that’s under the wheel of one of the boats and triggering incident.”

In two or three years, Ocado expects robots to account for 70% of products.

This means fewer human staff, but the Luton warehouse still has 1,400 staff, and many of them will still be needed in the future.

“There will be a sort of curve that tends towards fewer people per building. But it’s not as obvious as, ‘hey, look, we hardly need people’. We’re a long way from that,” Mr Matthews said.

Ocado hopes to sell its automation technology to companies outside the retail sector. Late last year it announced a deal with Canada’s McKesson, a large pharmaceutical distributor.

“Think about which industries have a need to move things efficiently in a warehouse… it’s endless,” Mr Matthews said.

About Kepala Bergetar

Kepala Bergetar Kbergetar Live dfm2u Melayu Tonton dan Download Video Drama, Rindu Awak Separuh Nyawa, Pencuri Movie, Layan Drama Online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *