Ocado to introduce robotic manipulation capabilities in operations
The EU backed research and innovation programme Horizon 2020’s SOMA consortium has announced “significant progress” in the development of robotic hands that can use soft manipulation to adapt to the shape of an object.
“The thousands of trials we performed clearly demonstrated that humans grasp and manipulate objects in very different ways from how roboticists had imagined for 50 years. This research inspired us to use soft, compliant hands and to actively exploit the environment in much the same way that humans do,” says Professor Oliver Brock, Head of the Robotics and Biology Laboratory, Technische Universität Berlin.
“Today, SOMA hands can perform robust grasping in dynamic, open, and highly variable environments without having to rely on a very accurate perception of the system, or the geometric CAD model of the object.”
Consortium partner Ocado is now looking to introduce robotic manipulation capabilities into its operations. It says that automating the picking and packing of customer orders is a part of its mid-term vision after introducing thousands of bots into its warehouses. Robotic grasping and in-hand manipulation are critical capabilities towards realising that vision.
“When humans grasp an apple, they do not consciously command each joint of their hand to a certain x,y,z location. Instead, they understand that the shape of the apple requires an all-encompassing grasp and allow the shape of the apple to determine where their fingers come to rest,” says Graham Deacon, Robotics Research Fellow, Ocado.
“SOMA’s compliant hands mimic these principles and use their compliance to exploit the object-environment relationship to their advantage. Furthermore, with SOMA’s soft fingers the risks of imparting damage on delicate items is dramatically reduced, significantly bridging the gap between the research lab and industry. We expect to see robotic hands embodying SOMA principles in production in the not too distant future.”