Ocado tests gentle robot hands for picking and packing fruit

The UK online grocery store Ocado is testing a new technology that may trim the number of human warehouse workers it needs: a robotic arm/hand that both picks and packs vegetables and fruit. The robot has been developed in partnership with Disney Research and a number of other institutions, and the end result is the testing of two different types of robotic hands, both designed to accommodate the random sizes of fruits of vegetables, and to handle them without damage.

The robot hands thus far tested include the LBR iiwa14, the brainchild of a robotics firm named Kuka, and RBO Hand 2, the work of a university in Berlin. By the sounds of it, though, Ocado ultimately plans to use a robotic hand it designed itself, one tailored toward picking up items of various size including bottles, fragile food items, and more.

Even better, and in order to properly replace humans, the hands would also be designed to detect whether a food item has gone moldy or is properly ripe. Many hands may be used in the future to deal with various types of items that are wildly different shapes, sizes and weights. A differently developed type of robot may also be used for maintenance purposes in the company's warehouses.

While the company's new warehouses will be automated, they won't be devoid of human workers, at least not in the foreseeable future. As with many things, future jobs will include more demand for engineers of both the hardware and software variety, though operational workers will still be needed, too. The move, like ones before it, raise concern among critics that such automation will harm human workers by shrinking the job pool.

SOURE: The Guardian