This Robot Can Pick Up Fruit Without Squishing It


The next industry to get taken over by robots might be grocery stores. Online supermarket company Ocado has been working with the European Union-funded SoMa (Soft Manipulation) project to create a robot that can handle fruits and vegetables as delicately as a human would. There are several Ocado robots in testing right now, and the company just released a video of one of them, as the MIT Technology Review reports.

Fruits and vegetables vary in size and shape and can be delicate, making them extremely difficult for automated systems to handle. A grocery warehouse can be largely automated, but people still have to be on hand to pick up the produce.

Ocado attached the bendy RBO Hand-2, a robotic gripper from the Technische Universität Berlin that looks like it’s made of Slinkies, to two different robot arms, and tested the system on artificial fruit in a standard container. They found that it could pick up a range of sizes and shapes from the tray, especially if the object was packed so that it couldn’t roll away.

The system is still in development, and Ocado is planning on testing it in more realistic situations, like with more items within the fruit container for the robot to fish out. But the initial trials suggest that robot hands can be delicate enough to handle soft objects without squishing them into pulp.

Go ahead and watch it in action:

[h/t MIT Technology Review]

All images courtesy Ocado