Ocado trials robot assistants for warehouse workers

Ocado is trialling the use of a Star Wars-style robot to help human workers in its warehouses.

The online retailer is using the robot, which can listen to human commands and interpret human reactions, to explore how the extra strength and precision of machines with artificial intelligence (AI) can revolutionise its operations.

The SecondHands robot responds to commands such as “pick up that spanner” or “hold this for me”. According to Ocado it “learns through observation”.

Ocado said that such technology could be rolled out widely in its customer fulfilment centres by 2025.

It said the robot would act as a second pair of hands to assist technicians when they are in need of help. It would augment human capabilities by completing tasks that require a level of precision or physical strength not available to them.

The robot, which uses the latest speech recognition technology, was developed with funding from the EU at the Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in southern Germany.

Ocado is also working with researchers at University College London, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Sapienza University in Rome on systems that can recognise and interpret human actions and decide how to help.

Graham Deacon, robotics research team leader at Ocado, said the aim was to develop a robot that could help without prompting in “a fluid and natural interaction between robot and technician”.

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