ocado van image large
Ocado’s iconic vans.
  • Ocado is working on multiple top secret projects based on robotics, according to its CTO.
  • Some projects are kept secret even internally to “protect our future,” CTO said.
  • The company has publically talked about working on a humanoid robot called SecondHands.

LONDON — Online grocery business Ocado has super-secret internal projects that even many staff don’t know about, according to its chief technology officer.
Paul Clarke told Business Insider at Retail Week Live this week in London: “We’re reasonably secretive about things internally too. We have projects that are on a ‘need to know’ basis. It’s done on a project by project basis. It’s an important part of protecting our future.”
Asked what Ocado needs to protect itself from, Clarke said: “The way that we look at it, rather than obsess about looking out at who’s trying to do what we’re doing, I think what we obsess about it constantly trying to move the puck to somewhere better and different.

Ocado is an online-only grocery business in the UK but has been trying to position itself as a technology business that can help other businesses get into online delivery. In recent months it has signed deals to provide its technology to France’s Groupe Casino and Canada’s Sobeys.
“We expect to sign multiple deals in the medium term,” Clarke told BI. “We’re talking to people on literally every continent around the world apart from Antarctica and a couple of warzones.”
Clarke said that “not very much is public” of what Ocado does, adding: “We own all of the intellectual property for all of the technology we use, particularly now that we’ve got our own robots, and we need to look after that, especially as we’re going to make it available to other people. We just have to be sensible about what we can talk about and what’s appropriate to talk about.”
Ocado has publically disclosed that it is working on a human-like robot called Second Hands that is intended to help humans with tasks around warehouses.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b9ZI6NX7fCk?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent]

Clarke said: “We took delivery of the first robot a few months ago. We’re putting it through its paces. It’s doing very well.”
“We’re subjecting it to DARPA type challenges. What can it do, what happens when it fails, if it falls over can it pick itself up? We’re putting it through its paces like that.”
Ocado has also been working on a new generation of grocery picking robots, called SoMa, andexperimenting with driverless cars.
Clarke said: “We have multiple robotics streams underway, not just the swarm Robotics but picking and packing, and other parts of the business that I can’t talk about but that’s the direction of travel as part of our relentless drive to automate more and more.”
“I’ve been there 12 years and quite frankly there really is never a dull moment. You don’t join Ocado for a quiet life. That’s what keeps it exciting. We would not keep the quality of talent we have if there were not big challenges to move on to.”