Ocado’s Collaborative Robot Is Getting Closer To Factory Work

Retailer Ocado is getting closer to creating an autonomous humanoid robot that can help engineers fix mechanical faults in its factories.

The firm’s latest robot, ARMAR-6, has a human-looking torso, arms with eight degrees of freedom, hands that can grip and a head with cameras inside. But it doesn’t have legs and is equipped with a large wheeled base that lets it move around.

To this end, ARMAR-6 uses a three camera systems inside its head to help it detect and recognize humans and objects; speech recognition helps it understand commands; and its hands are able to pick-up and grasp objects.




At present, the robot is still a prototype but getting to this point has taken two and a half years. Four European universities have been working to create each of the systems, under the EU’s Horizon2020 project.

The retailer has already automated large parts of its warehouse operation. Its 90,000-square-metre Dordon warehouse, near Birmingham, has 8,000 crates moving around it at any one time, across 35 kilometers of conveyor belts.

However, components can break and require maintenance. This is where future versions of the ARMAR-6 robot will come in.

Other training tasks that have been worked on include getting it to find a spray bottle, pick it up, and then handing it across to a human.

 

At the moment, this is a prescribed sequence,” Deacon says. “But the ultimate aim is for the robot to be able to recognize where in a maintenance task the technician is and understand from its behavioral repertoire what will be a good thing for it to do in order to assist the technician.”

Ocado’s humanoid project runs under the banner of Secondhands and involves engineers and computer scientists from EPFL, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Sapienza Università di Roma, and University College London.

Each university has developed individual elements of the ARMAR-6 system.

The firm first laid out the ambitious plans for the collaborative robot in 2015. Since then, it has worked on a number of robotics projects.

Most recently, it revealed its robotic arm that can pick-up items using suction. It’s planned the gripper will be used in the company’s factories to lift and place thousands of different items into the shopping of its customers.

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