A new robotic arm capable of safely grasping a wide variety of products was recently announced. The arm, used in picking up grocery items, was the result of collaboration between Ocado Technology and the Technische Universität Berlin.

"We are pursuing a new direction for robotic grasping by developing robot hands that can safely pick easily damageable items such as fruits and vegetables,” explained  Dr. Graham Deacon, robotics research team leader at Ocado Technology.

To avoid damaging sensitive and unpredictably shaped grocery items, the robotic arm uses the principle of environmental constraint exploitation to establish a carefully orchestrated interaction between the hand, the object being grasped, and the environment surrounding the respective item.


The research is part of a program called the SoMa project, which is a European Union-funded, Horizon 2020 program for research and innovation in the field of humanoid robotics. 

The SoMa project also includes researchers, academics and scientists from the University of Pisa, the Italian Institute of Technology, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, the German aerospace agency), the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, and Disney Research Zürich.

The SoMa project is part of a continuum of robotics and engineering R&D projects in development at Ocado. In December 2016, Ocado commenced operations from its highly automated Andover warehouse which includes hundreds of robots swarming on a grid the size of several football pitches.

In addition, Ocado Technology is a coordinator of the SecondHands project, another Horizon 2020-funded program that aims to design a collaborative robot that can learn from and offer assistance to warehouse maintenance technicians in a proactive manner.