World-first communications for automated warehouses
The Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) combines Ocado Group’s proprietary end-to-end software systems with their physical fulfilment assets to deliver superior economics for grocery retailers and unmatched experiences for consumers. In close collaboration with Ocado Technology’s engineering teams, we developed a communication system for the OSP unlike anything else available.
It uses unlicensed spectrum to provide simultaneous and robust communication between thousands of bots and the control system, allowing each to talk to the communication system ten times a second, collectively carrying four terabytes of data a day. The result sets Ocado Group apart in the industry through a breakthrough in radio design and the most densely packed cellular network in the world.
Transforming economics & efficiency
The OSP communication system orchestrates swarms of bots in Ocado Group’s highly automated warehouses. These bots move across giant storage grids at speeds of up to four meters per second, with a clearance of just five millimetres between them.
The bots pick an average 50-item order within five minutes, which is 18 times faster, more reliable and more economic than traditional warehouses that operate extensive conveyor belt systems.
Scaling for global growth
Through machine learning, robotics and data science, Ocado Group continues to lead the transformation of online grocery. We are now collaborating with Ocado Technology to evolve the next generation of the OSP’s highly flexible communications system for use by their partners around the world.
Uptake of OSP licenses has been fast. Ocado Group has already established agreements with leading grocery retailers across North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia, to scale those retailers’ online operations sustainably and profitably.
We worked as an extension of Ocado Technology’s design team during development of the wireless communication system, collaborating to overcome each fresh challenge and carrying out fast regulatory, feasibility and de-risking processes.
Throughout delivery we led the design verification work – guiding manufacturing partner selection, building a robust transfer-to-production ecosystem and providing 24/7 support during the transition. We also led technical seminars, training and knowledge transfer sessions.
Optimising investment & delivery
Our proven systems engineering processes and wealth of complex project experience enabled us to overcome some of the largest challenges very early in the development, enabling us to reach the world-first performance required and optimising investment.
Ambitious timescales meant the design simply had to be right first time. The custom radio boards, fabricated in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, did indeed work first time – a remarkable achievement given their complexity – enabling software integration and key functionality demonstrations at very early stages. A minimum viable product was reached in under a year, with the hardened system ready for operational deployment in the following months.
Coordinated communication in a noisy radio environment
A challenging indoor radio environment added a further layer of complexity to achieving robust, high-speed communication with a high density of end points. To address this, we customised the best standards-based technology to achieve new levels of performance and resilience, developed a powerful user interface and built warehouse test facilities to run and test many robots, base stations and radios in a realistic setting.
Unprecedented regulatory hurdles
As there was no precedent for using unlicensed spectrum in this way, securing regulatory approval was essential. We worked closely with Ofcom in the UK and FCC in the US to create new test protocols, demonstrating that the system followed the spirit, as well as the letter of the law.
Ultimately, we were complemented by the regulators on our approach, which has led to approvals in further regions across the globe.
Tales of the team
Fraser Edwards, radio technical authority, Cambridge Consultants
Tony Price, programme manager, Cambridge Consultants
Adam Green, wireless development manager, Ocado Technology
Amy Stephens, DSP development lead, Cambridge Consultants
Jake Turner, director, Cambridge Consultants
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