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Robots from Estonia boost supermarket spirits during pandemic / Media mention

29.05.2020

Cleveron makes automated locker systems that dispense parcels and groceries to shoppers. It has seen increased orders from grocery store customers. “These days we see that robotic products are favourites because they offer a completely touch-free experience,” says Mihkel Ilp, chief operating officer at Cleveron. “You just scan your code, the door opens, you grab your groceries and everything is done in 10 seconds.” As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the leading supermarket chains in Estonia installed Cleveron units within a couple of weeks. Several international clients expanded trials that they had with the company. “It was the kind of quick decision making that we haven’t seen previously,” says Mr Ilp, adding that it “generally takes at least three to six months to get to this point”.

Cleveron operates about 4,000 parcel hardware terminals for some of the world’s biggest retailers, including Walmart, and delivers about 1.3m packages a month. Cleveron’s robots do not trundle the streets like Starship’s but they are robots just the same. Behind what looks like a sheet metal box is a lot of software that sorts and delivers goods efficiently. Cleveron is testing a fleet of mobile delivery robots and has plans for a network of lockers integrated into bus stops across Estonia. Its aim is that every village and small town in the country would have access to such automated delivery.

The key to automated logistics is not the eye-catching robots, but the network and the clever choreography behind the scenes. Only then can home delivery be done with efficiency and at scale, says Duncan Tatton-Brown, chief financial officer at Ocado. The UK online supermarket company has spent 20 years developing automated grocery warehouses, staffed by swarms of robots. “I could open an online grocery in my living room by installing a few freezers and delivering by hand,” says Mr Tatton-Brown. “I could even add a robot that would look good moving around.” But the trick is to do it profitably, he adds. “Unless I build the ecosystem around it, I will never get the economies of scale.” At Ocado’s warehouses, the robots are only the tip of the operation. The crucial technology is the machine learning software that helps optimise everything from the supply chain to predictive maintenance on the robots. It is this that allows an order of 50 items to be put together in just six minutes.

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