#robots #run #grocery #store
– This is a grocery packing warehouse in the south-east of London. Folks have ordered their groceries online, and instead of people walking up and down the aisles of a traditional grocery store to pick up items, these little devices move more than a million items every day between them.
Instead of trying to build machines that fit into a world designed for humans, this entire facility, the size of seven football fields, is custom-built to make this as efficient as possible. I cannot get across on camera just how incredibly large this whole place is.
The top speed of those boxes is about 14 kilometres an hour and they pass within five millimetres of each other when they move. So: how many robots are there in the Hive? Well, that depends on how you count them. – What you’re looking at behind me is the Hive.
We’ve got the grid, which is the metal structure, it’s filled with products, so that product is housed within what we call totes or these open boxes that you can see at the top of the grid. We have around 2,300 bots and they move the stock around the warehouse,
So that we can pair it up with customer orders to be delivered. The bots will move in the X and Y direction, they can also move in the Z direction. So we have a cable hoist system. That means that they can lower down a gripper assembly
And grab onto the stock that we have in the grid. In some areas we have as deep as 21 totes, all in a line. We have sensors underneath the bot, that mean that every time it passes over one of the squares on the grid, it has a laser underneath it,
That can tell when it moves over that cell. So it will say “I passed a cell, I passed a cell, I passed a cell.” We have around 58,000 different types of individual products within the grid. We’ll use the huge amounts of data that we gather
To understand what customers are most likely to order and place them in the easiest to reach locations for bots. All of that combined means that we can have stock into the warehouse and out again from our suppliers, into a delivery van, in just five hours.
– The robots deliver their crates over to the packing area. Some of that packing is done by humans, but there are mechanical arms as well. One of the big problems they’ve got to solve is that grocery packaging is designed for people, and the interactions between all the objects
They deal with can be… complicated. – Currently, we’re standing underneath the grid structure that we saw earlier. The robots that we saw are actually dropping off products to the station. Once they’re dropped off, they become in control of the robot and the robot decides how to pick them,
Before the grid robot picks up their tote and takes it away again. There’s two 3D cameras above the totes, so it takes an image of the storage box before it picks from it decides on the best grasp point, confirm that the product is correct, and then place it into a customer’s shopping
And it’s doing all of that on live customer orders. We make sure that we don’t mix something that was heavy with something that’s soft. There are things that the robot can’t pack, things such as very, very heavy, very large or very fragile items, but there’s a lot of range in between that.
– It’s fairly safe to call each individual packing arm “a robot”. Each one has a separate controller and it has to make a lot of decisions in real time using cameras and sensors on each individual arm. But here in the Hive, it’s not quite as simple.
– Controlling all of this is what we refer to as the Hive Mind, so this artificial intelligence system that controls everything. Once the stock comes in, from that exact point that it enters the system, the Hive Mind will track its every single movement.
The Hive Mind will tell the bots exactly where they need to stop, but it is the bot’s control system that allows it to follow a movement profile and stop exactly as the hive mind expects it to. There’s just a 5mm gap between bots,
So that’s both as they pass each other and if they stop next to a bot as well. This bot with the orange light may have experienced something within its sensors and all of those readings it’s taking, that when it feeds that back to the Hive Mind,
It’s not quite what the Hive Mind was expecting, so it just brings it to a safe stop for investigation. We do have a number of grid operators that sit at the edge of the grid and they’re able to use our CCTV system that we have above the grid
To look at exactly what’s going on with that bot and they can try and fix that remotely and send commands to the bot wirelessly. – The boundary between “individual” and “group” is a little blurry. Is a termite colony a collection of individuals working together, or one big superorganism?
Is the microbiome in your gut part of you? Because in the last couple of decades scientists have started to work out that the bacteria in your digestive system produce and consume neurotransmitters that affect how you think. But most people wouldn’t consider their gut bacteria to be “part of them”.
We tend to ascribe intelligence and identity to things that act at roughly our scale. It’s easy to look at the Hive, see the moving boxes and go, “okay, 2000 robots”. But with only one controller and the boxes just following the paths they’re given, I’d say there’s a good argument that
That is one robot… with 2,000 ways to interact with the world. Thank you so much to everyone here at Ocado. There is a link to them and more about their technology in the description.