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Ocado technicians now have cobots as assistants

19 January 2018

The SecondHands project robot prototype is designed to offer support to maintenance technicians working in Ocado’s highly automated warehouses. The robot will learn through observation and will augment the humans’ capabilities by completing tasks that require a level of precision or physical strength that are not available to human workers.

SecondHands robot

The SecondHands robot prototype ARMAR-6 has been developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) by Tamim Asfour and his team at the High Performance Humanoid Technologies Lab (H²T) of the Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics.

SecondHands is an EU-funded Horizon 2020 project aiming to design a collaborative robot (cobot) that can proactively offer support to maintenance technicians working in Ocado’s highly automated warehouses, also known as Customer Fulfilment Centers (CFCs). This robot will be a second pair of hands that will assist technicians when they are in need of help. The robot will learn through observation and will augment the humans’ capabilities by completing tasks that require a level of precision or physical strength that are not available to human workers.

The SecondHands robot prototype has been delivered to the Ocado Technology robotics research lab where experiments to evaluate the integrated research components from all project partners is currently taking place. The video presents the first instances of the robot interacting with its testing environment right after it was assembled.

The SecondHands project combines the skills of world class researchers focusing on a real-world industrial use case to deliver:

• the design of a new robotic assistant

• a knowledge base to facilitate proactive help

• a high degree of human-robot interaction

• advanced perception skills to function in a highly dynamic industrial environment

Together with its research partners École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Sapienza Università di Roma, and University College London (UCL), Ocado Technology is working to advance the technology readiness of areas such as computer vision and cognition, human-robot interaction, mechatronics, and perception and ultimately demonstrate how versatile and productive human-robot collaboration can be in practice. Here is a summary of the research contributions for each of the project partners:

• EPFL: human-robot physical interaction with bi-manipulation, including action skills learning

• KIT (H²T): Development of the ARMAR-6 robot including its entire mechatronics, software operating system and control as well as robot grasping and manipulation skills.

• KIT (Interactive Systems Lab, ISL): the spoken dialogue management system

• Sapienza University of Rome: visual scene perception with human action recognition, cognitive decision making, task planning and execution with continuous monitoring

• UCL: computer vision techniques for 3D human pose estimation and semantic 3D reconstruction of dynamic scenes

• Ocado Technology: integration of researched functionality on the robot platform and evaluation in real-world demonstrations

Collaborative robots represent a fast-growing segment of the industrial robots market. According to the World Robotics Report released earlier this year by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), industrial robot installations are forecast to grow by 15 percent in 2018. This increased adoption of robots for a wide range of applications comes off the back of stronger-than-expected growth in the global economy, faster business cycles, greater variety in customer demand, and the scaling up of Industry 4.0 concepts.

As robots evolve from industrial machines performing repetitive tasks in isolated areas of large-scale factories to highly complex systems powered by deep neural networks, SecondHands has the ambitious goal to solve one of the greatest challenges facing the robotics field: developing collaborative robots that can safely and intelligently interact with their human counterparts in a real-world factory environment.

Video courtesy of Ocado Technology 


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