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New Scientist: "The Future of Shopping: Robo Shop"

"Artificial intelligence and robotics are revolutionising business. And leading the way is the online grocery store Ocado"

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"IN THE control room at Ocado’s automated warehouse in Hatfield, 50 kilometres north of London, the firm's head of research is wielding something rather odd: an Xbox game controller. But Alex Harvey is not about to zap some aliens. Instead, with a deft twitch of his thumb, he zooms into a 3D computer model that looks, at first glance, like some kind of bizarre, multilayered train set.

"But this is actually an animated, real-time visualisation of the thicket of over 30 kilometres of conveyor systems in a warehouse the size of eleven football fields. It models the movement of thousands of crates around the conveyor belts to workstations where just a few human workers pack them to fulfil hundreds of thousands of online grocery orders every week.

"This simulation is crucial in designing the plant and testing the algorithms and software that controls it. And it also helps troubleshoot problems: if a crate jams, operators zoom in to see what's gone awry. 'The number of products picked per hour in a plant this size is so high that any minutes lost really matter,' says Harvey."

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