Ocado is an online-only grocer based in Britain. Unfortunately, on 16th July, one of its warehouse robots collided and caused a fire that resulted in limited damage.
At Ocado’s, more than 1,000 robots operate around a grid, stopping to grab crates of food, then depositing them for human pickers to pack customer orders. The company said that the incident “appears to have been caused by the collision of three bots on the grid”. Luckily, there was no person reported to be injured. The damage was limited to less than 1 percent of its grid, according to Ocado.
In addition, the company said that “aside from some residual smoke smell, the vast majority of the CFC is in good condition”.
The warehouse is populated with robots like the size of a washing machine, moving products from one place to another in a grid system. Though the incident was minimal, some orders were delayed by the company.
The Verge’s James Vincent wrote about Ocado’s plans in a 2018 feature story. Thes tory described:
Deliveries are unpacked into crates; crates are placed onto conveyors; and conveyors carry the crates to shelves, where human “pickers” take what they need to fill customers’ orders. The new paradigm, though, is all about using space as efficiently as possible. Items are still placed in crates, but those crates are now stored in huge stacks, up to 17 boxes high. Their position in this stack seems to be random — a box of razors next to cod fillets, for example — but it’s algorithmically decided, with frequently accessed items placed on the top and rarer purchases near the bottom. Then, on top of this hoard, the robots do their work.
The Erith customer fulfilment plant, which can process 150,000 orders per week, will be unable to fulfil the UK online supermarket’s orders. However, according to the Financial Times, the company should restart its operations in the next few days.
Some of the frustrated customers also headed to Twitter to show their anger due to the cancellation of orders.
“While we expect some disruption to operations, we are working to restore normal service as soon as possible,” the company said. “We expect the facility to begin operating within the coming week and thank customers whose orders are affected for their patience.”
Temporarily such incidents do happen in large scale organizations. However, Ocado has big future plans, the company plans to use self-driven vehicles in its warehouses and yard to deliver groceries to the houses without any human involvement. Robots carrying shoppers’ groceries to their kitchen seems like a cool idea!