A British online supermarket chain is trialing a new automated grocery picking and packing system that uses computer vision to determine the best grasping mechanism to transfer goods.
By way of a quick recap, Ocado is among the world’s biggest online-only grocery retailers, and it has long embraced technology and automation to streamline operations. The company’s customer fulfillment centers (CFS), which are massive warehouses where customers’ orders are processed and packed, use conveyors, automated cranes, “goods-to-person systems,” and robots that cart the crates to human employees who then get the final order ready for shipping.
Elsewhere, Ocado has been working with the EU-funded SoMa (soft manipulation) project, a Horizon 2020 program for robotics research. This is in addition to SecondHands, a 3D-vision-enabled humanoid robot that understands human speech and can help carry out on-premises maintenance work.
Ocado may be pretty big on automation technology, but the actual picking and packing of customers’ orders is still carried out by humans, simply because the delicate nature of handling fragile or easy-to-damage goods requires a gentler touch. But this could change sooner rather than later — earlier this year, Ocado demoed a robotic arm that can pick and pack items such as fruit.
For the past 18 months, Ocado has been working within its robotics lab on a new system that can identify the best way to hold and grip items and move them between crates. Rather than training a system to recognize individual items — which…