New radio system to control Ocado automation

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Ocado is introducing a new radio system to its warehouse automation which will control 1,000 machines in parallel and in real time.

OcadoThe online retailer is currently building two new fulfilment centres, Andover and Erith.

The system, which Ocado reckons is a world first, will control and co-ordinate the movement of hundreds of thousands of crates containing millions of grocery items.

The technology developed by Cambridge Consultants, provides Ocado with a guaranteed connection ten times a second to each of 1,000 machines per access point – all working within a 50-metre radius.

“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,” said Mark Richardson, operations director at Ocado.

“We set out to create a ground-breaking platform for online retailers – the Ocado Smart Platform – to push the boundaries of efficiency, modularity and scalability. Working closely with the Cambridge Consultants team has enabled us to make our ambitious vision a reality.”

The system is based on 4G telecoms technology deployed in the unlicensed 5GHz Wi-Fi band.

“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.

“We created a system based on the principles of 4G but which can support 1,000 devices from a single base station – over ten 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,” said Ensor.

As the technology works in licence-free spectrum, it can be deployed quickly anywhere in the world. As well as logistics, the system could potentially be used to control fleets of semi-autonomous vehicles at sites such as factories, construction sites and airfields. Ocado is the intellectual property owner and has filed a number of patents for the technology.

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