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Ocado Technology leads development of one of the world’s most advanced collaborative robots

Ocado Technology leads development of one of the world’s most advanced collaborative robots
  • The robot developed under the SecondHands project will use artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced vision systems to understand and support human workers

  • The ground-breaking humanoid robot will increase safety, efficiency and productivity in the workplace

Development of one of the world’s most advanced collaborative robots begins today as part of an EU-wide initiative involving Ocado Technology and four of Europe’s leading technology research institutions.

Under the SecondHands project, Ocado Technology is coordinating a consortium of universities to create an autonomous humanoid robot. It will use artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced vision systems to understand what human workers want and offer assistance with difficult maintenance jobs. For example, it will hand tools to human maintenance technicians and manipulate objects like ladders, pneumatic cylinders and bolts, abilities which cannot be found in any commercial robot. The objective is to increase safety, efficiency and productivity in the workplace.

“The ultimate aim is for humans to end up relying on collaborative robots because they have become an active participant in their daily tasks,” explained Dr Graham Deacon, Robotics Research Team Leader at Ocado Technology. “In essence the SecondHands robot will know what to do, when to do it and how to do it in a manner that a human can depend on.”

The initiative, which will span five years, and is expected to use seventy two person years (equivalent to 855 person months) of research effort to complete, aims to break new ground in robotics. Key areas of focus, include:

  • Proactive assistance: the robot developed under the SecondHands project will have cognitive and perceptive ability to understand when the operator is in need of help, understand how this help can be given and provide relevant assistance

  • Artificial intelligence: The team will enable the robot to progressively acquire skills and knowledge needed to provide assistance. In fact, it will even anticipate the needs of the maintenance technician and execute the appropriate tasks without prompting

  • 3D perception: Advanced 3D vision systems will allow the robot to estimate the 3D articulated pose of humans and offer support when it is needed without being asked

  • Humanoid form and flexibility: A humanoid shape and human-like flexibility will enable natural collaboration between humans and the robot. It will feature an active sensor head, two redundant torque controlled arms, two anthropomorphic hands, bendable and extendable torso and a wheeled mobile platform

The SecondHands project, so-called because the robot will literally provide a second pair of hands to human workers, is part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, which includes one of the worlds largest civilian robotics programs.

As coordinator of the project, Ocado Technology will work alongside University College London, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, La Sapienza University of Rome and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. The technology firm, which powers Ocado.com, will build a special testing facility in Hatfield where the robot will be subjected to rigorous real-world trials.

UK’s competitive position in advanced robotics research strengthened

The development of one of the world’s first autonomous robots comes amidst research by Boston Consulting Group that identifies the UK as a leading adopter of industrial robots over the next decade. The BCG research complements findings by the International Federation of Robotics, estimating that the global market for industrial robots was worth $9.5bn in 2013.

Ocado Technology taking a lead in robotics research in the UK

The development of this bleeding edge robot puts Ocado Technology at the forefront of companies working on advanced robotics in the UK. The company currently employs ten robotics experts, from leading robotics research institutions, such as The University of Edinburgh and Imperial College London.

‘Soft hand’ grasping skills

In addition to the SecondHands project, Ocado Technology is also working on a second, complementary, Horizon 2020 project: SoMa will see the firm partner with a number of universities to explore new ways for robots to physically interact with their environment. It is hoped this will create a ground-breaking robotic hand which can be used in conjunction with SecondHands.

Emulating a human hand, the robotic gripper will know when to grasp softly – such as when picking an apple – or to grip more tightly, such as when lifting a bottle of water.

SoMa is co-ordinated by Technical University of Berlin and will involve collaboration with University of Pisa, Italian Institute of Technology, Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft – und Raumfahrt (DLR), Austrian Institute of Science and Technology, and Disney Research Labs in Zurich.

For information on the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding initiative, please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/

About Ocado Technology
Ocado Technology is a division of Ocado developing world-class systems and solutions in the areas of robotics, machine learning, simulation, data science, forecasting and routing, inference engines, big data, real-time control, and more. The fusion between the Ocado retail and Ocado Technology divisions creates a virtuous circle of innovation that leads to disruptive thinking. For more information about Ocado Technology, visit www.ocadotechnology.com

About Ocado
Established in 2000, Ocado is a UK-based company admitted to trading on the London Stock Exchange (OCDO), and is the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailer, operating its own grocery and general merchandise retail businesses under the Ocado.com and other specialist shop banners. For more information about the Ocado Group, visit www.ocadogroup.com

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