Ocado, an online food retailer in the UK, wants to disrupt how your groceries are bagged. The company is testing robotic arms fixed with soft, inflatable hands to pick and pack food like humans.
Earlier this week, Ocado unveiled of its robotic arm grocery bagger, a standard industrial arm outfitted with a specialized soft gripper. The fingers and palm that make up the soft hand are controlled by streams of air, which inflate the hand to wrap around and grasp a multitude of objects — apples and a bag of limes. Ocado says the current iteration is limited in what it can handle; The Guardian reports the company is working on machine learning and computer vision to ensure the robot can grab tricky objects like eggs, glass bottles, and household cleaning products. Moreover, Ocado is trying to train its robots to detect whether the fruit is ripe or moldy.
Ocado is working with numerous universities on the project. The idea is to automate the company’s food warehouses where, up until now, have relied on humans to pick and pack produce. If a robot, like shown above, can do so, productivity could rocket.
“The whole aim of what we are doing is to boost productivity. Right now we are limited by the capability of the warehouse and by the productivity of humans,” Alexa Voica of Ocado’s technology arm tells The Guardian.
Similar companies, most notably Amazon, are heavily invested in warehouse automation. It’s reported that warehouse robots can significantly reduce product handling time and increase product inventory, moving around aisles quicker and consuming less space than a human.
Source: The Guardian