Hiring people to pick out fruit in a warehouse may become a thing of the past, thanks to the British grocery company Ocado that is trialling a robot arm for the task.

It may be a few years, however, until AI takes over the task, as the current technology, known as SoMa (Soft Manipulation) is an early prototype.

This project, funded by the European Union and Disney, has been in trials for over 18 months. Ocado has just now allowed the public to view it in all of its glory.

Thus far, Ocado has tested out two different hands to aid workers in warehouses. They have been RBO Hand 2 developed by the Technische Universität in Berlin; and the LBR iiwa14 by German robotics firm Kuk. 

Currently, they are also developing what is described as “humanoid” robot, known as SecondHands, which will assist human employees in the warehouse with related tasks. 

Although not ready to go on the market yet, the robotic arms demonstrated their ability to pick up and deposit fruit in a container without crushing it or damaging it. The prototype only used fake fruit, but scientists say this is a huge leap forward in technology because fruit is amongst the most difficult to handle. Customers, they say, do not want their fruit dented or damaged, regardless of if a human or a robot did the packaging.

In the future, the robotic arms and SecondHands may be responsible for helping fulfil orders for customers and grocery stores alike. Instead of having a human being fulfil an order, the robot may be able to fetch the items, leaving the humans to check them over, load them in trucks and take them off to their destination.

Although the introduction of the technology has spurred some people to worry about the future of their jobs, Ocado has assured them that although some warehouses will be automated in the near future, they will still need many real live people for other jobs.

They also purport that they are now creating jobs for engineers and scientists and helping create technology that may one day be used the world over.


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