Ocado has announced it is to begin testing a super-strong humanoid robot that will work alongside human engineers in the online grocery giant’s automated fulfillment centres.
The giant robot, named SecondHands, cost £7m and was developed in collaboration with specialist institutes and universities in Switzerland, Italy, Germany and London. The prototype was designed under one of 17 robotics projects backed by the EU-funded Horizons 2020 research and innovations programme, with the aim of creating robots that can be trained to work safely and proactively alongside human maintenance technicians.
The SecondHands robot will assist the technicians who maintain the automated machinery in Ocado’s warehouses and fulfilment centres. It is hoped that this will boost productivity and lead to cost reductions for the company, which currently delivers groceries for supermarkets such as Waitrose and Morrisons.
“The ultimate aim is for the robot to be able to recognise where in a maintenance task the technician is and understand from its behavioural repertoire what will be a good thing for it to do in order to assist the technician,” Graham Deacon, Ocado’s robot research chief, told Wired magazine.
Mr Deacon said that, although the robot was currently limited to prescribed sequences like locating a spray bottle and handing it to a human technician, it does have cognitive decision-making abilities and can learn new tasks through observing its human co-workers.
Ocado is at the forefront of automation and utilises robotic technology throughout its supply chain, including handling, warehousing and delivery. The company’s Andover warehouse employs hundreds of battery-powered robots to move goods. In June, it announced plans to test self-driving trucks.
The company hopes that investing millions of pounds in developing technology will lead to sourcing savings and cost reduction through increased productivity and decreased waste. Last year it also unveiled a robotic arm that could be used to handle fragile items like soft fruit and glass as well as dangerous chemicals.