Robotic piling causes havoc on grocery supply for web shoppers

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According to predictions by futurologists, robots are increasingly appearing in workplaces around the world because they can work faster and more efficiently than the human they are replacing.

But a collision between three robots at a state-of-the-art facility near London, UK, on ​​Friday, July 16, suggests the much-discussed robot takeover won’t happen without the occasional major glitch.

The robots in the center of the snafu pick and sort online food orders for Ocado, a software and technology company that works with well-known supermarkets to build high-tech warehouses for delivery services.

After the triple pile-up, the robots caught fire, resulting in a fire that lasted several hours to get around 100 firefighters under control. 800 employees were safely evacuated from the facility with no reports of injuries. The robots didn’t do quite as well, however.

The result? Three ruined bots, lots of food burned, and numerous customers receiving messages from Ocado stating their order was delayed or canceled.

Ocado later said the damage caused by the fire was limited to a small portion of the facility, with “the vast majority” of the building still in good condition. It added that it was hoping to operate at full capacity in the coming days. The company has yet to explain how the robots collided and what it plans to do to prevent the same type of accidents from happening again.

The Ocado robot-operated system shown in the video above is a remarkable sight. It consists of a huge grid with numerous robots the size of a washing machine that slide along on rails, fetch ordered items from boxes and then take them to the packaging process. The store hit by the fire on Friday processes around 150,000 orders per week with 3,500 of the eight-wheeled robots.

Worrying for Ocado (and its customers), this isn’t the first time its robotic technology has been at the center of a harmful fire. In 2019, a faulty charging session with one of its robots caused a massive fire at another of its facilities that burned the entire building and cost the company around £ 100 million (approximately $ 138 million).

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