Ocado is accelerating the development of its “robotic picking products” as the pandemic presents opportunities bigger “than we imagined (were) previously possible”.
Ocado Technology’s chief executive James Matthews explained during an interview with Google Cloud that the company was placing a greater focus on its technology arm to meet the new industry demands during COVID-19.
Matthews explained that Ocado’s technology arm, which sells its high-tech automated end-to-end solutions to third party retailers, has become a focal point for Ocado during lockdown.
“For our global technology business there it’s been a recognition amongst our clients, or prospective clients, our investors that the shift to getting food delivered online was already there but is going to accelerate,” he told Google Cloud’s Natalie Piucco.
“And so, in terms of how people are looking at our technology business, they see that the opportunity is bigger now, in the shorter term, than we imagined it was previously.”
A key part of its solutions are its automated robots, including both delivery and picking and packing machines, which Matthews says the company “now really want to accelerate”.
“We have robots running around picking up food but ultimately, bringing them to a human who then packs groceries, as it were,” Matthews explained.
“We now have, in a small way, in our own operations robotic picking cells that do the final part of the process. So, actually pick up the yoghurt and put it in the customer’s order.
“We have a lot of teams working on this and we have teams working potentially years out on innovations… We’ve got version one in play now. We’ve got three future iterations being worked on in parallel as well as the core of the magic, which is the vision systems and the artificial intelligence that power the picking process.
“We already work on it, but we intend to accelerate that significantly because, it goes without saying, that in an environment where you might be worried about social distancing some of these automation products and techniques will only enhance things: our clients are going to be more interested now than they were previously on top of the efficiency that inherently comes from automation.”
It comes as Ocado continues to roll out its services across the world, opening two Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs) in France and Canada during 2020.
The arm saw “invoiced growth of 40 per cent or more” but still made a loss of £10.1 million, which Ocado said was due to its “continued investment in improving the platform and building the business, and from increasing support costs with the launch of initial CFC sites.”