Kiss the Traditional Grocery Store Goodbye

Technology is changing all around us whether we like it or not. Various jobs are being taken over by robots, and even some hotels even use them to greet their guests upon arrival. Now shopping could be the next big change we see in society as grocery stores adapt to the use of robotics and many have now integrated them into their businesses. But, it’s not just the businesses that will benefit…

Smart technology, autonomous delivery vehicles, swarm robotics, and machine learned preferences are all there to ensure you get your products faster. Ocado is currently the world’s largest online-only grocery retailer, and one of the reasons they are so successful is that they don’t have to constantly have people searching high and low for particular items as they just have a robot who knows where everything is and can grab it instantly, pack it up, and have more AI deliver it straight to the customer’s door. As great as this may sound, for the customer, it’s not that easy to achieve really.

Because we are dealing with groceries which have a short life span, something is needed in the place that can also do things like rotate stock and check dates on food and make sure perishables such as sushi go out the same day they’re delivered.  How it currently works at Ocado is like this:  large plastic crates are filled by humans and placed on a 30-kilometer conveyor belt in a warehouse in Dorden. The belt transports the crates to the back of the warehouse ready to be loaded onto a large truck that takes it over to the distribution center.  Here it’s sorted into areas and loaded onto delivery vans. Even the vans have some form of smart technology as their delivery route can be optimized to take into account traffic, customer time preferences, or even the weather.

Even though this operation is already pretty slick, Ocado wants to make it faster.  Paul Clarke, Ocado’s chief technology officer, says, “Fractions of a second in our business count.  It’s all about how we can shave the next little bit off our process.” So, that’s what the third warehouse Ocado are trialing is all about. This new development will have a main floor that’s roughly the size of a football field split into several squares – underneath which is a vertical stack containing five crates of groceries. Up to 1,000 robots roam the surface lifting crates from below as they scuttle around grabbing crates for the pickers as they need them to complete the order.

The new warehouse is to be located in Andover and will hopefully enter full service sometime in 2017, and is the first step for Ocado going full automated. Although, Clarke does still have some reservations in this such as in the difficulty a robot may have in deciphering to different products, or in the autonomous delivery aspect as well with its lack of customer interaction. But he does say, “With more data comes greater intelligence – because that’s the food of machine learning.” In time, Ocado may even be able to compose your order based on data it receives directly from your smart fridge. Amazon is also looking to integrate AI into their shopping experience with their own Go convenience store that allows you to scan your phone then simply take goods of the shelf and walk out the door, leaving the payment to be taken afterward by the computer. If you didn’t like shopping previously, maybe these new shopping experiences will soon change your mind.

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