Currently, when a customer orders groceries via Ocado’s website, large plastic crates are swiftly filled. The containers are packed by hand, but little legwork is required: 30 kilometers of conveyor belts at the Dordon warehouse carry empty boxes straight to people who work as pickers. They grab items from shelves that are replenished by robots, or from boxes brought out of storage via cranes and conveyors. Ocado’s algorithms monitor demand for products and use the information to map out an optimal storage scheme, so that popular items are always within easy reach.
Once an order is packed, it’s hauled off in a large truck and taken to a distribution center to be loaded into a van. Each van then embarks on a delivery route that can be carefully optimized according to factors such as customer time preferences, traffic, and even weather.
But Ocado wants to be faster. “Fractions of a second in our business count,” says Paul Clarke, Ocado’s chief technology officer. “It's all about how we can shave the next little bit off our process.”