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Ocado unveils new maintenance robot to support technicians

Ocado has unveiled the ‘cobot’, a new “collaborative robot” that has been designed to support technicians in the company’s warehouses.

The company claims that the robot will help technicians maintain and repair its equipment in its highly automated warehouses. 

Called ‘SecondHands’, the development of the robot has been partly financed by the EU-backed Horizon 2020 project that’s looking to create a so-called co-bots capable of providing maintenance support to technicians.

According to Ocado, the robot will act as a “second pair of hands”, hence the name, for maintenance technicians when they run into problems. It’s not intended to replace them, the company was keen to assert.

By observing a human technician’s capabilities, the company claims, the robot will learn new skills and be able to apply them to tasks that “require a level of precision or physical strength that are not available to human workers”.

It has been working on robots for a few years now, and is also conducting research in areas such as computer vision and cognition, human-robot interaction, mechatronics and perception.

The project has focused on designing a new robot assistant, tapping into knowledge base to “facilitate proactive help”, ensuring there’s human-bot interaction and applying advanced perception skills.

Ocado teamed up with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Sapienza Università di Roma and University College London (UCL) on the project. 

Each of the research partners focused on their own areas of expertise. EPFL offered assistance with human-bot physical interaction and helped to implement action skills learning.

Meanwhile, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) developed the robot’s mechatronics, software operating system and control. It also generated grasping and manipulation skills for the bot.

Scientists at Sapienza University of Rome focused on the areas of human-action recognition, cognitive decision-making, task planning, and execution through continuous monitoring

And the UCL designed computer-vision techniques for the robot, enabling “3D human pose estimation” and “semantic 3D reconstruction of dynamic scenes”. Ocado refined the robot’s platform.

“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,” said the firm. 

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