An advanced new robot is being developed by online supermarket Ocado to help maintenance workers in the company’s highly automated warehouses.
The collaborative robot (cobot) is essentially a ‘second pair of hands’ that will assist technicians when they are in need of help.
It can respond to voice commands by handing over the right tool. And not only that: the robot will learn through observation, enabling it to predict what a person is doing and proactively offer assistance without prompting.
“The ambition is that the robot will be able to decide what the technician’s intentions are and chip-in as appropriate at the right point in time,” explained Graham Deacon, the robotics research team leader at Ocado Technology.
The robot will also augment technicians’ capabilities by completing tasks that require a level of precision or physical strength beyond the capability of human workers.
Ocado is working on the SecondHands project with four European universities, each of which has developed individual elements of the system. The project is supported by European Union funding through the Horizon 2020 programme.
The first prototype of the robot, known as ARMAR-6, was recently unveiled at the Ocado Technology robotics research lab.
Robots are already taking on increasingly complex tasks within factories and warehouses, and the SecondHands project is “a sign of how rapidly automation is moving into new areas of work, and how improvements in sensing and machine learning could accelerate things,” said MIT Technology Review.
Collaborative robots represent a fast-growing segment of the industrial robots market. According to the World Robotics Report released last year by the International Federation of Robotics, industrial robot installations are forecast to grow by 15% in 2018.