Retailer Ocado using 1,000 4G robots in warehouse
Pepper robot

British online supermarket Ocado has revealed that it uses more than 1,000 4G connected robots in its automated warehouse.

The robots are remotely controlled through the 4G unlicensed spectrum, something the retailer claims to be a first in the area of warehouse automation.

According to the company, the robots are constantly connected to the internet and have a ten times per second load speed. They roam around the warehouse in a 150-metre radius.

Handy robots

Because the robots all run from a fast internet connection, controllers can send them commands within seconds and locate them at all times.

They’re helping the company manage high levels of orders and dispatch stock quickly as well as efficiently. Automation is also proving to be popular for cutting costs.

The firm is using an unlicensed connection protocol, which many believe will transform the Internet of Things (IoT) over the next few years, particularly in areas such as connected cars and smart cities.  

Ocado talks up tech partnership

Ocado teamed up with Cambridge Consultants, a technology development firm, to create the automated robot system. They are still exploring possible uses for the tech.

Ocado Technology, a separate development arm, is responsible for delivering these innovations. Previously, it launched an AI customer service program.

Adam Green, wireless team leader at Ocado, explained that building a fleet of robots isn’t easy but his developers have been aided by the support of Cambridge Consultants.

“While building a robot can be a relatively straightforward task, creating a swarm of thousands of robots and making sure you can communicate with every single in a tenth of a second is a whole different ball game,” he said.

“We have worked closely with Cambridge Consultants to develop an innovative system that takes advantage of modern wireless communications principles but has secret ingredients that tailor it to our specific environment.

“Since the protocol works in the license-free spectrum, we can also deploy it at a moment’s notice in any location around the world.”

Related: UK retailer testing transformative IoT warehouse solution

IoT in the manufacturing world

Connected technology is currently making big waves in the manufacturing sector in many ways. Hans O’Sullivan, CEO of StorMagic, believes that IoT data introduces a host of new opportunities

“What is now called industrial or enterprise IoT is a natural extension of historical process automation and process control systems,” he told Internet of Business.

“In the past, factory each machine or system had its own monitoring and alerting function to warn operators when conditions were out of tolerances for that particular device.

Today, however, the ability to consolidate data and alerts from various IoT ‘things’ into a single dashboard gives greater efficiency, improved quality, and enhanced reporting to factories and the manufacturing industry as a whole.

“This kind of centralised monitoring of remote factory-floor IT infrastructure reduces or eliminates the need for on-premises IT staff in factories.”

Related: 9 examples of manufacturers making IIoT work for them