Ocado and technology partner Cambridge Consultants are claiming a world-first in the way they have used wireless networks to make the online grocer’s next-generation warehousing more efficient.
The online grocer is using wireless control systems developed through the partnership in its new automated warehouse. There, 1,000 machines are communicating up to 10 times a second to control and coordinate the movements of crates carrying millions of grocery items in real time.
“We set out to create a groundbreaking platform for online retailers – the Ocado Smart Platform – to push the boundaries of efficiency, modularity and scalability,” said Mark Richardson, operations director at Ocado . “Working closely with the Cambridge Consultants team has enabled us to make our ambitious vision a reality. This revolutionary wireless development work from the Ocado and Cambridge Consultants collaboration is a crucial part of the advanced, proprietary automation which will power our next-generation warehouses and those of our partners.”
Cambridge Consultants, home to one of the largest independent wireless development teams in operation, was set the challenge of developing technology that would do a job equivalent to controlling the movements of all the aircraft that fly in and out of London’s Heathrow Airport in a day – but all at the same time and while they’re circling around within a few kilometres of each other.
“It was clear early on that no technology existed which would do what Ocado needed,” said Tim Ensor, head of connected devices at Cambridge Consultants. “That meant they needed to create a completely custom solution to achieve the required performance – but do so in a way that had a manageable risk profile and in the minimum amount of time. They engaged us to help them achieve this.”
The team identified that a system based on 4G telecoms technology deployed in the unlicensed 5GHz Wi-Fi band gave the best chance of achieving Ocado’s goal of co-ordinating thousands of fast-moving machines to within a fraction of a second.
“Our expertise in 4G system development and familiarity with available platform technology allowed the joint Ocado and Cambridge Consultants team to develop a solution very quickly and with minimum risk,” said Ensor. “We created a system based on the principles of 4G but which can support 1,000 devices from a single base station – over 10 times more than is usually possible. “At the same time, we needed to ensure it met the requirements of operating in licence-free spectrum – the first time this has been done with 4G technology.”