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Ocado bot collision causes warehouse fire

Around 800 workers evacuated as firefighters worked throughout the night to tackle the blaze

Ocado has had to cancel thousands of orders after robots collided at one of its fulfilment centres and caused a fire. 

Three bots that help pick groceries crashed into each other at the firm's Erith site on Friday, forcing around 800 workers to be evacuated and causing mass disruption for customers. 

The London Fire Brigade were called to the scene and worked throughout the night to tackle the blaze, which had damaged "less than 1%" of the grid on which the three machines crashed. 

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"The correct protocols were successfully implemented including the evacuation of the building, the activation of the sprinkler system and the presence of the London Fire Brigade," the company said in a statement. "No one has been injured and all colleagues on site are safe. The damage is limited to a small section of less than 1% of the grid having been contained by planned fire attenuation measures.

"Aside from some residual smoke smell, the vast majority of the CFC is in good condition. While we expect some disruption to operations, we are working to restore normal service as soon as possible. We expect the facility to begin operating within the coming week and thank customers whose orders are affected for their patience."

Ocado fulfilment centres are highly automated and the Erith site specifically operates hundreds of robots - many of which run at speed around its grid, collecting and delivering groceries to factory staff. 

This is not the first time one of its fulfilment centres has caught fire; in 2019, a distribution centre in Andover had a robot catch fire due to a fault in its battery charging unit. That site was completely destroyed after a four-day fire. 

Accidents in mass automated factories do seem to be quite common and in some very rare cases, even fatal. In 2015, a man was grabbed and crushed to death by automated machinery that he was attempting to set up in a Volkswagen factory in Germany.

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