British online grocery store Ocado has been on the hunt for a robot. It wants to even further automize its grocery process by getting a robot to pick and pack orders. So in coordination with the SoMa Project — a robotics project funded by the European Union — Ocado has been testing and developing possible solutions. The team’s been working on this project for 18 months, but today’s the first time the public is getting a look at the progress they’ve made.
Ocado says its robot arm was particularly difficult to design because fruit and vegetables vary in shape and size. They also damage easily. So in response to these issues, the team chose to go with a gripper called the RBO Hand 2, which relies on pressurized air and rubber. It adjusts its grip, thereby keeping fruit intact.
Ocado’s team mounted the RBO Hand 2 to two different robot arms: the Staubli RX 160L and the KUKA LBR iiwa14. Both arms were able to grab artificial fruit products without crushing or dropping them, regardless of their size or shape. The tests were simplified, though. The robot arm was only told to pick up items up from a tray and the fruit itself wasn’t real. Still, Ocado says this is only the start. In the coming months the company hopes to test the arm with other items and in more complex situations.