Online supermarket Ocado has partnered with product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants to create a world first in radio design.
According to Cambridge Consultants, connected technology is transforming Ocado’s warehouse automation solution — enabling the company to control and co-ordinate the movements of hundreds of thousands of crates containing millions of grocery items, in real time and in parallel. The new wireless control system means that Ocado’s next-generation warehouse is home to the most densely packed mobile network in the world.
Every day, Ocado ships more than two million items to customers across the UK. The new system allows the online-only grocery retailer to control 1,000 fast-moving machines, communicating with them 10 times a second. What’s more, the wireless solution is scalable and could potentially handle 20 times the number of movements.
Illustrating the complexity of the challenge, Cambridge Consultants said that it’s like attempting to control the movements of all the aircraft that fly in and out of London’s Heathrow Airport in a day — but all at the same time and while they are circling around within a few kilometres of each other.
“It was clear early on that no technology existed which would do what Ocado needed,” said Tim Ensor, head of connected devices at Cambridge Consultants. “That meant they needed to create a completely custom solution to achieve the required performance — but do so in a way that had a manageable risk profile and in the minimum amount of time.”
The resulting system is based on 4G telecoms technology deployed in the unlicensed 5GHz Wi-Fi band.
As well as logistics, the system could potentially be used to control fleets of semi-autonomous vehicles at sites such as factories, construction sites and airfields.
“This revolutionary wireless development work from the Ocado and Cambridge Consultants collaboration is a crucial part of the advanced, proprietary automation which will power our next-generation warehouses and those of our partners,” commented Mark Richardson, operations director at Ocado.
“This is a great example of how transformative technology can enable companies to gain an edge in a highly competitive market. The potential of this solution, not just within warehousing but in a whole range of other sectors too, is huge.” Lara Burch, Partner