zoomzoomzoom, excuse me, zoomzoomzoom
May 18, 2018 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Inside a warehouse where thousands of robots zoom around a grid system, packing 65,000 grocery orders a week. The robots collaborate as a swarm and can pick an order of over 50 items in a few minutes.

More video of Ocado's automated distribution warehouse. via
posted by not_the_water (41 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
In the first link it says "[The robots] bring crates of products to pick stations." But it never shows how they pick the stuff out of the crates in the grid. A grabber thing like in arcade claw machines?

(Also, that video could have been 15 seconds long with an accompanying paragraph of text. Protip: you can adjust the video speed under settings. I watch almost all videos at 2x.)
posted by AFABulous at 12:42 PM on May 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


Watching the videos, the main purpose of the cube bots appears to be merely transporting the already-loaded crates from one station to another. The aisle picker is pretty cool, that's the kind of thing I typically associate with this future of warehouse automation.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


That's amazing. I too am left with more questions than answers. Like how stuff is actually picked up.
posted by GuyZero at 12:46 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I have never heard of Ocado, but as soon as the video started playing my first reaction was "Are these British robots?
They look like British robots".
posted by aubilenon at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'm assuming that in the upcoming Amazon version of that, each "robot" will have a worker stuck inside, unable to exit for their 8 hour shift.
posted by evilangela at 12:50 PM on May 18, 2018 [16 favorites]


Thousands of Amazon employees just shuddered and don't know why, while Jeff Bezos giggled.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 12:50 PM on May 18, 2018 [11 favorites]


I have to supervise remote tech supporters and I honestly can't wait until we can replace them with robots.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:54 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, for all the disgusting spectacle of cities prostituting themselves for Amazon's "favor" of building their new HQ there, this is what's in store for them. Systems like these will become cheaper to build and maintain than a human workforce, and then the humans are out on the street. Meanwhile all the tax breaks and other goodies offered to Amazon means even less money for programs to support the jobless.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2018 [19 favorites]


robot: "all i want to do is just a-zoom zoom zoom ... "

i'll just let myself out over here
posted by WCityMike at 12:58 PM on May 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


Thousands of Amazon employees just shuddered and don't know why, while Jeff Bezos giggled.

Since Amazon bought Kiva, the company that pretty much invented the "OMG, Amazon workers are fucked" youtube video genre, back 2012, they've been shuddering for a long while.
posted by sideshow at 1:01 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


These robots are really similar to the Amazon robots that were profiled in PBS’s Nova Wonders, Can We Build aBrain? And they also do not show how the order gets from the container to the shipment stage. There are Amazon employees near the robots, so, they know.

The Nova show aired this week, and I’m terrible at linking from my phone, but the last 15 minutes of the show also discussed the meaning of work.
posted by childofTethys at 1:08 PM on May 18, 2018


I wish I could just be impressed at the design of these things but until we decide that automation can free people from work without impoverishing them at the same time, it remains just vaguely sea-sick-inducing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:13 PM on May 18, 2018 [24 favorites]


Yes, agreed. My thought watching this video was to question why it is we aren’t getting the increased leisure time we were promised.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2018 [11 favorites]


These robots are competing with Amazon. The via link is titled Meet Ocado, Kroger's Newest Weapon in Its Grocery Delivery War with Amazon and Walmar
posted by not_the_water at 1:17 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The robots collaborate as a swarm and can pick an order of over 50 items in a few minutes.

I can't get the phrase "skeletonize a cow" out of my head now.
posted by cortex at 1:19 PM on May 18, 2018 [36 favorites]


Like others, I want to be impressed with the technology, but instead, I keep thinking of how far we are now removed from the reality of simple things like growing our own food. Basically, as a species, we are doomed.
posted by greenhornet at 1:22 PM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


These robots are competing with Amazon. The via link is titled Meet Ocado, Kroger's Newest Weapon in Its Grocery Delivery War with Amazon and Walmar

Ford vs GM did not help the buggy-whip makers
posted by lalochezia at 1:29 PM on May 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


not_the_water
These robots are competing with Amazon.
PKD
As the Tassos reached for him, a last ironic thought drifted through Hendricks’ mind. He felt a little better, thinking about it. The bomb. Made by the Second Variety to destroy the other varieties. Made for that end alone.
They were already beginning to design weapons to use against each other.
posted by adamrice at 1:31 PM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


beginning to design weapons to use against each other.

The only way to win is not not play the game be way the hell far away from anyone "playing" war with bots.
posted by sammyo at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Like others, I want to be impressed with the technology, but instead, I keep thinking of how far we are now removed from the reality of simple things like growing our own food. Basically, as a species, we are doomed.

This is a silly criticism and people have said some variation since there was technological change. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about technological change, but generally the changes in food production and distribution has allowed for us to be a more prolific species.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:48 PM on May 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


The robots collaborate as a swarm and can pick an order of over 50 items in a few minutes.

I can't get the phrase "skeletonize a cow" out of my head now.


I was thinking pre-teen pickpockets
posted by philip-random at 1:48 PM on May 18, 2018


A couple things to note based on my understanding and the questions in the above comments:

1) the grid consists of bins that contain products. A robot goes to a grid cell, picks up a bin, then carries it to a pick station where one or more items are retrieved from the bin and placed in the pending order. Then the robot returns the bin to the grid. The type and amount of what product goes in which grid cell can fluctuate with demand and, I'm sure, a complicated trip optimization algorithm.

This is very similar to Amazon's system, with the difference that Amazon's robots can handle larger items but are much less space efficient. In other words this system is great for groceries but maybe not for the variety of items Amazon carries.

2) Pick stations can be automated for smaller items like this. The picker is usually a six-axis arm with a gripper - I think most these days involve one or more elements consisting of a soft rubber skirt with a suction mechanism. But robotic picking for anything other than an inventory of uniform boxes is a huge capex, because it's tricky and the robots break frequently; I don't think many firms have deployed it yet.
posted by xthlc at 1:51 PM on May 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


So we can now employ ever-fewer people to grow and deliver food to paying customers.

Umm.... so those customers, what jobs do they have so that they can afford to buy food?

I'm with Henry Ford on this one - if you pay your staff enough to buy the products that they make, then more people will buy those products. If you don't pay your staff enough, then you are limiting your own market.
posted by happyinmotion at 1:58 PM on May 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


My thought watching this video was to question why it is we aren’t getting the increased leisure time we were promised.

because somehow 131.2 billion dollars is not enough personal wealth for jeff bezos, because no amount of wealth will ever be enough for the wealthy, and so they will work everyone else to death until robots are finally cheaper than paying overworked humans. and then those humans will be left to starve.
posted by halation at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


It's like a Superstudio project come to life
posted by gyusan at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2018


I'm assuming that in the upcoming Amazon version of that, each "robot" will have a worker stuck inside, unable to exit for their 8 hour shift.

Only the lucky ones will get stuck inside a robot for 8 hours a day. Most will get stuck inside America with no money for 24 hours a day.
posted by Edgewise at 2:11 PM on May 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


All that being a more prolific species is going to do is mean more, poor, miserable, starving, angry people. And being without money or shelter in any society which is much above a Neolithic
farming or pastoralist technological level is an evil fate. It’s a pity humans advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage actually.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:37 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Okay I'm not liking this Silent Running reboot.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:40 PM on May 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I kind of wonder if we, as a society, have higher aspirations for our children than ensuring they work basically brutal conditions, at minimum wage, in a broiling warehouse in the middle of nowhere.

I don't think it's classist or snobbish to say that Amazon warehouse picking jobs are inhumane and Dickensian.

Something already has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
posted by JamesBay at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


That was such an uninformative video.
posted by Laotic at 3:10 PM on May 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


This is very wasteful.
Why cannot the dumb meat machines line up in orderly fashion under feeding tubes like smart robots do?
Why so many different kinds of feeding paste for meat machines?
Inefficient!
Why do the meat machines need so much space for storage?
Inefficient! OPTIMIZE. OPTIMIZE.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:42 PM on May 18, 2018 [9 favorites]


All that being a more prolific species is going to do is mean more, poor, miserable, starving, angry people. And being without money or shelter in any society which is much above a Neolithic
farming or pastoralist technological level is an evil fate. It’s a pity humans advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage actually.


Tell that to our shared ancestors who died of malaria for want of a net. Call me a daft techno-utopian but I really like stuff like children not routinely dying of communicable diseases, books, democracy, potable water, a system of laws and not living in fear of a vengeful god.
posted by howfar at 3:45 PM on May 18, 2018 [16 favorites]


All that being a more prolific species is going to do is mean more, poor, miserable, starving, angry people.

A smaller fraction of the population is poor or starving than ever before in human history. Unemployment in the US is at a 19ish year low, and yes that stays true regardless of whether you are talking about any of U1 through U5. Labor participation rate is down, but that is a good thing in many ways, and anyway, that rate is more gender equitable than ever before, so yay for now.

A bunch of us are about to be screwed by the robots and AI, plus some diabolical combo of nukes, climate change, and batshit ideologies megaphoned by the Internet. Oh well. We've been living through a goddamned golden age; let's try to enjoy it. Malthus is rising from his grave as we speak, coming to laugh away our cornucopian bullshit.

It’s a pity humans advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage actually.

Turns out life is stressful even when you have everything in a paleo-pastoralist's wildest dreams. Don't it suck. Maybe we shouldn't have advanced beyond myelinated sheaths.
posted by andrewpcone at 3:59 PM on May 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


I haven't even watched the video yet, but from all the comments so far I am really expecting Charlie Chaplin trapped in an endless machine and doing incredibly deadpan antics with wrenches and screwdrivers all the way down the line to oblivion.
posted by yhbc at 9:09 PM on May 18, 2018


The picking mechanism is shown at 2:18 in the first video and it looks like it's suction-based.
posted by archy at 9:55 PM on May 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


If this comes with UBI and single-payer health insurance then we can play ball.

If not, I don't care for it.
posted by tillermo at 3:11 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The grocery store is optimized to tempt me to buy stuff I may not particularly want. If stores were optimized for efficient shopping, and if other shoppers had a shred of common sense, I'd get my shopping done in half the time or less. You, the person with the cart in the middle of the aisle already narrowed by a display. You, meandering with your cart in the middle of the aisle. You, with your cart blocking the food I want while you decide which variety of stuff to choose. Grocery store that rearranges things all the time. I'm looking at all of you. Sometimes I shop later at night on my way home from somewhere and it's a treat to have the store free of barriers; more than makes up for no tasting stations, which just block the aisles that much more anyway.

We already have plenty of resources so that everyone could work 25 hours a week and live decently. In the US, we've already chosen to allow capital to be aggregated by a few, while people literally cannot afford adequate healthy food, housing, transportation, and the education to have better lives and make the country and world better. If robots take over boring jobs, we've already decided that the displaced worker is a slacker who should have made better life choices.
posted by theora55 at 5:15 AM on May 19, 2018


These are just a sophisticated method of getting a crate containing say, 10 bananas, to a picker.

The crates are stored stacked vertically - I can't remember the exact height but it's somewhere in the region of 10m. The system knows exactly where the crate containing bananas is, so when someone orders 2 of them the system will send a robot to drive over the stack containing the crate with bananas. It lowers down a gripper and grabs the crate, lifting it inside the robot. The crate is then taken to a conveyor of some sort and is presented to the picker person. They take what was ordered and put it into another crate. The remaining bananas are returned to the stack.

The nifty thing is that if the crate you want is 8 deep, the system sends 8 robots to pick out the top crates first and places them somewhere else nearby. Then the crate it wants can be picked and brought to the picker.
posted by leo_r at 6:36 AM on May 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


The nifty thing is that if the crate you want is 8 deep, the system sends 8 robots to pick out the top crates first and places them somewhere else nearby. Then the crate it wants can be picked and brought to the picker.

Seriously? That seems crazy inefficient. I'm not saying I could design it better—I'm just surprised. If there are 8 crates on top of the one you want, then you need 8 moves and one pick to get the thing, then presumably those crates can't get immediately placed in their optimal next positions, so there is yet more work in shuffling them into a sane ordering.

I guess the additional robot-seconds are cheaper than making a 3d lattice that the robots can move around? Or something.
posted by andrewpcone at 10:04 AM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


It looks like a background environment from Mirror's Edge. I'd love to check out the pathing code, or play around with it to make them dance or play a game. The little path diverter at 0:22 in the wired video is neat too.
posted by lucidium at 1:12 PM on May 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots.
posted by Redhush at 9:00 AM on May 20, 2018


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