Robots imitate shoppers to improve supermarket fridges

  • July 7, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Williams Advanced Engineering (WAE), Aerofoil Energy and Inovo Robotics are working together on an R&D programme that uses robots to improve the energy efficiency of supermarket fridges.

Based at WAE’s site in Oxfordshire, UK, the initiative sees Inovo’s collaborative robots – called cobots – repeatedly opening and closing the doors of test fridges to emulate real-world supermarket trading conditions. These fridges feature the F1-inspired Aerofoil shelf edge technology along with Aerofoil Energy’s Vortex energy efficient fridge technologies.

The three companies set up the robotic real-world supermarket emulating test programme in 2019. It has delivered ten energy saving technologies that have already entered the market and are delivering energy savings for supermarkets.

Aerofoil’s shelf edge technology, which has been rolled out across many of the UK’s supermarkets since 2017, is inspired by the design of a Formula One wing. This aerodynamic device channels the cold air that falls from the top of a fridge down the front, preventing it from spilling out into the aisle, saving up to 30% of a supermarket’s energy costs.

Aerofoil Energy and WAE partnered together on this design in 2015, the collaboration inspiring the creation of the Foresight Williams Technology Funds with Foresight Group, which was launched in 2016 and helps grow small and medium-sized UK technology and engineering businesses, giving them access to expert technical expertise and investment.

In 2018, Inovo Robotics received investment from the fund in its collaborative robotic technology, whose USPs are its ease of programming installation and a versatile, modular robotic arm that can be adapted depending on the application.

“Inovo’s cobots are designed for batch manufacturing,” said Henry Wood, Inovo Robotics co-founder. “They are modular, versatile, collaborative robots with a user-friendly interface which makes configuration for new tasks extremely easy. They are ideally suited to support the latest round of Aerofoil tests which require a repeatable and reliable system to open fridge doors, emulating in-store conditions and supporting round-the-clock testing.”

Paul McAndrew, Aerofoil Energy technical director, added: “Aerofoil Energy designs and delivers energy-saving technology to the UK’s leading supermarkets to improve the energy efficiency of display refrigeration. In 2019, in partnership with Williams Advanced Engineering, we set up a cutting-edge R&D facility. To date, this has delivered ten new energy saving technologies which have already entered the market and are delivering significant energy savings for supermarkets.”

And Maria Nelson, WAE senior partnerships manager, said: “Williams Advanced Engineering is delighted to support both Aerofoil and Inovo with a test programme which is designed to emulate in-store conditions while measuring product temperatures and energy consumption. The robots have proved invaluable during this programme and we’re proud to bring two of our technology ventures companies together to support the testing of further energy efficient technologies.”