Online Supermarket Ocado Tests Out Robotic Food Handler

By Andy Franco , Feb 01, 2017 10:58 AM EST

The big online supermarket, Ocado, has been reported to be testing a robotic hand that can pick up fragile fruits and veggies then pack them. The robot is named the RBO Hand 2 and is made up of flexible material while making use of pressurized air.

Ocado has about 4,000 human employees picking and packing in their warehouses. It seems like human tender loving care is still a premium.While handling food items like fruits and vegetables seem like a relatively simple task, the overall agreement was that using robots were out of the question as they can easily bruise them. The RBO Hand 2 is working to improve robotkind's image when it comes to crop handling.

According to Ocado Technology's robotics research leader, Dr. Graham Deacon, "One of the main challenges of robotic manipulation has been the handling of easily damageable and unpredictably shaped objects such as fruit and vegetable groceries."

"The overall goal is to automate picking of every single item we have," says Alex Harvey who is Ocado's head of the robotic and autonomous systems.

Apparently, the company's robot arm testing is part of the SOMA (Soft Manipulation) project which has been going on for 18 months. It is a collab of universities and research institutes from Italy, Germany, and Austria. With SOMA's aim to design simple and capable soft hands, it received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.

The actual testing involved putting the RBO Hand 2 on two different robot arms. The arms were able to successfully picked up fake fruits without crushing or dropping them. The robotic hand adjusts its palm, fingers, and thumb to match the shape of the give fruit. Air pressure being pumped to the fingers is being controlled. The team will be putting the RBO Hand 2 into more difficult tests in the future. We will only be seeing more robots soon.

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