Online Supermarket, Ocado, has showcased their most recent innovation – a robotic hand that can pick, move and pack fresh fruit and vegetables without damaging them.
Soma (Soft Manipulation) is the result of a 5 year research collaboration between Disney and 5 European Universities and hints towards the future of the Hampshire-based firm’s food packing process. Designed to accurately mimic the human hand, the 4 fingers and thumb are pneumatically controlled to pick and pack items as delicately as a human can – but that’s not all.
Beyond a prototype
This unbelievable innovation is still in its prototype stage, but there are big plans for the future of robotic assistance at Ocado. At this stage, the robot gripper is controlled by air pressure, and it’s hoped that this can be combined with ‘computer vision’ technology which will enable the robot to recognise different fruits and vegetables.
This will take the firm one step closer to their ultimate vision of the robotic hand being able to learn to distinguish between the different stages of ripeness of fresh produce. Ocado spokesman, Alexandru Voica, says that “fruit and vegetables are the hardest to pick”.
Naturally, the hand-like robot will be well equipped to select other household items such as glass and plastic bottles, i.e. wine bottles and cleaning products.
Cutting edge technology
Despite such technology being created in the past, nothing of this calibre currently exists. According to Prof Chris Melhuish, director of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, “There are lots of groups that are looking at robotic manipulation but often it is for a specific purpose – picking up a concrete block is not the same as doing artificial suturing for example – so the tendency has been to build different types of manipulators for different domains.”