The world’s largest online food retailer gets its food from giant robotic grocery warehouses — take a look

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A rendering of a robot being developed by the online food retailer Ocado.
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Ocado

When you order a jar of peanut butter or package of paper towels from Ocado – the world’s largest online food retailer – chances are, it was picked by a robot.

Ocado has a total of three warehouses that deliver in the UK. They use robots, automated conveyor belts, shuttles, and cranes to pick up and carry food items at high-speed to trucks outside. The food is then delivered to customers.

The company’s largest warehouses, located outside Birmingham and London, process over 1.3 million items per day, Ocado’s CTO, Paul Clarke, tells Business Insider. The company will start construction on a fourth facility in 2018. It will measure approximately 563,000 square feet, making it one of the largest grocery warehouses in the world.

Though Ocado doesn’t deliver as many food items as Amazon in the UK, it claims that its warehouses are more heavily automated than Amazon’s.

“For grocery retail, Ocado has the most advanced automated warehouses in the world,” Clarke says.

Take a look inside its robot-run facilities.


Located outside Birmingham, one of Ocado’s warehouses measures 350,000 square feet and ships over 1.3 million food items per day to people’s doors.

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Ocado

It does this with the help of automated conveyor belts, cranes, shuttles, and other machines. They transport orange plastic bins around the warehouse at high speeds.


When a customer orders groceries through Ocado’s site, human workers pick food off shelves along a 330-foot aisle. They then place them into the bins …

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Reuters

… which a 82,000-footlong network of conveyors is constantly replenishing. Very little legwork is required from the human workers.

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Reuters

Everything is controlled by an artificially intelligent system, which is constantly collecting data and making the warehouse more efficient in real-time. For example, if it senses that the shelves are running low on yogurt, it will make sure an automatic crane re-stocks boxes of it immediately from the back.

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Reuters/Dylan Martinez

By scanning barcodes, the warehouse’s system makes sure a customer’s order includes everything, and the conveyors bring it to the delivery trucks.


Most of the food, like sushi or strawberries, is perishable and need to be delivered to customers quickly. In Ocado’s newest facility near London, it takes under 10 minutes for food to go from the shelf to the truck.

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Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

This warehouse uses bots that pick the food, and cut down the time it would take for a human to search for the right items. They look like this:

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Ocado

The bots work together in a system called “the hive.” They move on top of the hive, and have claws that pick up food items below. Then the items go to a human picker, who puts them in the bins.

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Ocado

The company, partnering with several European universities, is also developing robotic hands that can pick food.

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Ocado

The bot’s hand has a soft touch, so it won’t bruise bananas or crack eggs.


Right now, the team has only developed the hand. The are also working on a maintenance robot technician that may look something like this:

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A rendering of a robot that Ocado is developing.
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Ocado

“The Ocado Group is a net employer of more than 12,000 people, none of whom (including myself) would have a job if it hadn’t been for the automation and robotics we’re developing in-house,” Clarke says.

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Reuters

Some economists say automation poses a largre threat to human jobs. A 2015 McKinsey report predicts that existing technology could replace45%of work activities – especiallythose in warehouses.


The company is working to make the bots and control system even more efficient. “Because of the scale and speed at which our warehouses operate, we are able to deliver fresher food, faster,” Clarke says.

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Ocado