Ocado unveils suite of ‘game-changing’ grocery tech

Ocado Group has unveiled new technology that will underpin the company’s existing Ocado Smart Platform (OSP), including what the company describes as the “world’s lightest and most efficient grocery fulfilment bot” and the first-ever virtual distribution centre (DC).

OSP is the company’s proprietary suite of tech solutions for operating online grocery businesses.

The new 600 Series bot is built using additive manufacturing, with over half of its parts 3D printed. Ocado said that the robot is “ultra-energy efficient” and cheaper to build and operate than its predecessor.

The lighter bot has enabled the business to produce lighter grids – which transport the robots around the warehouse – in a much quicker time. The grids can now be built in weeks rather than months, at a lower cost, and use “dramatically” lower material.

The grocery tech giant has also launched what it says is the world’s first virtual distribution facility. ‘Ocado Orbit’ is a system whereby smaller warehouses share a virtual DC which uses software in AI and machine learning within a supply ecosystem.

Each warehouse acts as a primary supply hub for a fraction of the stock but all have access to the combined range. Ocado said that currently customer fulfilment centres need to be a certain minimum size to “achieve the necessary economics for suppliers” and that the new virtual warehouse will address this issue.

Additionally, the business introduced its ‘on-grid robotic pick’ which automates the picking and packing of customer orders directly from the grid. With this technology, robotic arms will pick tens of thousands of products of varying shapes, sizes, weights, and fragility and pack them in bags.

Speaking at the company’s product launch, founder and chief executive of Ocado Group, Tim Steiner said: "The global pandemic has turned the industry’s tentative steps into giant leaps. Today, the industry stands at a turning point. Consumer expectations have dramatically changed, social media has enabled us to peek into lifestyles, cultures and cuisines.

“Our dedicated teams of stealth innovators have been working on both enhancing and even disrupting what we already do.”

He added: “Harnessing advanced and emerging technologies and applying them in ways that no one has done before. The capabilities you will see today are the result of cutting-edge development and innovation over many months and years.”

Steiner hinted that the company is developing even more technology: “We are also working on many others which are still to come.”

Other technologies launched by the company this week include: the Ocado Swift Router which enables delivery of last minute, short lead time orders as well as larger, longer lead-time orders, all from the same van; Ocado Flex, which enables grocery retailers to use their own webshop and app solutions whilst using intelligence from OSP; and a new automated frameload, which automates the loading of totes with ready-for-delivery customer orders onto delivery frames ready for dispatch, replacing the manual process currently in place.

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