Fears that robots may one day steal humans’ jobs may be eased a little depending on how the world receives a prototype collaborative robot (cobot) designed to work alongside maintenance technicians.
The EU funded SecondHands project, which kicked off in 2015, aims to build a collaborative robot to offer support to maintenance technicians working in the warehouse of the online supermarket Ocado.
The prototype cobot, revealed today, which has the official title ARMAR-6, will eventually act as a second pair of hands that will assist engineering technicians when they are in need of help, and will be capable of handling tools or manipulating objects like ladders, pneumatic cylinders and bolts.
“I’ve been here for about seven years now and initially I was hired with a view to getting robots to pack the shopping,” said Graham Deacon, Robotics Research team leader at Ocado Technology.
“Things have moved on a bit since then and one of the things that we’re working on now is a project called SecondHands. This is developing a robot to assist our maintenance technicians. It’s called SecondHands because it’s literally meant to be a second pair of hands for the technician to get their work done.”
Ocado’s cobot was developed collaboratively by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Sapienza Università di Roma and University College London.
Each research team, together with Ocado’s own robotics department, contributed a different component that when put together make up the complete robot (part of me hopes someone shouted ‘It’s Megazord time’ when they were done with their part).
So, for example, KIT took care of the development of the cobot including its entire mechatronics, software operating system and control as well as robot grasping and manipulation skills, while EPFL handled human-to-robot interactions and action skills learning.
Rather than going straight onto the warehouse floor, the cobot has been delivered to the Ocado Technology robotics research lab where experiments to evaluate the integrated research components from all project partners is currently taking place.
Ocado hasn’t given any indication yet when we can expect the cobot to be working alongside its human brethren.