Ocado is set to go into production on robotic hands technology in their warehouses.
Graham Deacon, robotics research fellow at Ocado, told Computing about the company’s robotics research work.
“We already have one device that’s going into production. This uses a simple suction cup on the end of it, but the clever bit is really the vision system.
“The way these systems typically work is that you need to have a model of the object the robotic arm is picking up in order to calculate the ‘grasp point’.
“Our system just needs to be able to detect in ‘the scene’ patches that are large enough and horizontal enough for the suction cup to work.
“It characterises what needs to be seen in the scene for the suction cup to work, which means that we can be agnostic about what it is that we are trying to pick up.
“We’re still arranging how many things it can handle. We expect it to be able to handle a few thousand objects – and this will be going into production imminently.
“Is it better than the way [a person would] pack? At the moment, the way that we operate, we give it an empty tote to start with.
“As the tote becomes more and more full, it becomes more challenging for the robot,” said Deacon.
The robotic hand is the culmination, so far, of several years of work on robots by Ocado in a bid to create a device capable of picking and packing a diverse range of goods in the warehouse.
The company first showed off the robotic hand that it is planning to put into production in 2017.
It was part-developed under the European Union SOMA – soft manipulation – project, with the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), German Aerospace Center, the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and Università di Pisa in Italy, Institute of Science and Technology Austria and Disney Research Zurich.