Ocado has developed a grocery packing system
Humans picking your groceries could soon be a thing of the past thanks to some astounding research and development undertaken by Ocado Technology. At an 18-acre warehouse in Hampshire, it’s not people that pack customers’ Ocado grocery deliveries, it’s robots.
As many as 65,000 customer orders are processed here every week and the warehouse doubles up as a robotics lab, with maintenance engineers on hand to spring into action should something go awry.
How it works
One set of robots collects crates of food and delivers them to chutes. Here, human workers (accompanied by a second set of robots that are honing their picking up and replacing skills) take the number of items they need for an order before allowing the machines to pop the crates back in the relevant stack.
The crate collecting bots can even work as a team: if a box that one robot needs is lower down in the stack, others come along to lift out the ones that are on top. This is enabled by an unlicensed, bespoke 4G network that has been created by Ocado.
The machines tasked with picking have an algorithm that can ‘learn’ where crates are located and where the optimal grasp points are of the items within the crate. The robots have the ability to identify space in a delivery crate so that orders can be packed sensibly, assisted by built-in sensors helping the bots to avoid crushing or damaging goods during packing.
The next steps
As the technology degrades, the robots will need the ability to identify when they are not performing as they should. This requires some self-diagnostic intelligence, whereby they can identify the difference between how they should be performing and how they are actually performing. This, according to a professor at Bristol Robotic Laboratory is a challenge yet to be overcome.
Eligibility for R&D tax relief
Ocado Technology’s efforts are undoubtedly eligible for R&D tax credits. Due to the vast number of products in the Ocado catalogue (some 50,000 items), the robots had to be capable of picking a greater range of items, requiring finer control than many industrial picking systems. What’s more, they had to be able to recognise when a product was protruding from a delivery crate and if placing an item was likely to crush another. The technology has now began to be licensed elsewhere, one user includes at Morrisons. The challenges that the development of these machines has overcome, as well as their ability to benefit the wider industry, makes them prime candidates for R&D relief.
Are you engaged in robotics development?
If your business is engaged in the development of robotic systems to overcome specific challenges, the work you’re performing could be eligible for R&D tax relief too. Take a look at our R&D tax credits calculator for an estimate of what you could be owed, or check out our R&D tax credit claim example to learn more.