Ocado showcases robotic arm for grocery picking

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Ocado Technology is announcing a major development in the pursuit of creating robotic grocery picking solutions for Ocado’s highly-automated warehouses. The Ocado Technology robotics team has created a robotic arm capable of safely grasping a wide variety of products, including many from Ocado’s current range which includes over 48,000 hypermarket items.

The robotic arm comes as a result of the close collaboration between Ocado Technology and the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), and represents an integral part of the SoMa project – a European Union-funded, Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation in the field of humanoid robotics.

The SoMa project also includes researchers, academics and scientists from the University of Pisa, the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, the German aerospace agency), the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, and Disney Research Zürich.

“Ocado and its academic partners are developing some of the most innovative technologies in the field of robotics. With SoMa, we are pursuing a new direction for robotic grasping by developing robot hands that can safely pick easily damageable items such as fruits and vegetables. The RBO Hand 2 designed by the Technische Universität Berlin offers a versatile, cost-effective and safe solution for robotic grasping and manipulation that integrates very well with Ocado’s highly-automated warehouse retail solutions.” – Dr. Graham Deacon, robotics research team leader at Ocado Technology.

To avoid damaging sensitive and unpredictably shaped grocery items, the robotic arm uses the principle of environmental constraint exploitation to establish a carefully orchestrated interaction between the hand, the object being grasped, and the environment surrounding the respective item.

The SoMa project is part of a continuum of robotics and engineering R&D projects in development at Ocado. In December 2016, Ocado commenced operations from its highly automated Andover warehouse which includes hundreds of robots swarming on a grid the size of several football pitches. In addition, Ocado Technology is a coordinator of the SecondHands project, another Horizon 2020-funded programme that aims to design a collaborative robot that can learn from and offer assistance to warehouse maintenance technicians in a proactive manner.

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