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A grocery store in the U.K. has developed a robot to assist it's maintenance workers. The online supermarket, Ocado, has already made huge strides to automate its operations by using pick and pack robots in its warehouse, and trialling self-driving delivery pods in London. The company is now looking to give its human maintenance technicians a helping hand with the SecondHands project and has unveiled its first robot assistant test prototype named ARMAR-6.

ARMAR-6 can already respond to simple voice commands in useful ways. For example, ask it to hand you a wrench and it will ask you which one before giving you the correct tool. Researchers working on the robot are also testing ways for it to parse a scene and plan complex actions in real time.

"The Ocado warehouses include state of the art automation and robotics systems and our technicians and operations engineers are tasked with ensuring that they function 24/7, 365 days a year," Ocado's Alexandru Voica told an online source. "These warehouses pick and pack millions of grocery items per day and deliver tens of thousands of orders to our customers in one-hour slots. The ultimate goal is for the robot to use machine learning and computer vision to scan its surrounding environment and identify tasks it could help with.

"So for example, if it observes a technician attempting to change a panel and requiring a set of tools, it will come and offer its assistance – either by holding the panel for the engineer or grabbing the various tools that are needed."

The robot is a sign of how rapidly automation is moving towards new areas of work, and how improvements in sensing and machine learning could accelerate things. The ARMAR-6 prototype has now been delivered to Ocado's robotics research lab where it will be tested, evaluated and improved. Meanwhile, each research partner will continue to work on individual components and system until the initiative comes to an end in 2020. After that, the teams will look into ways to get the robot helper into production and subsequent deployment.

You can learn more about the ARMAR-6 prototype by watching the video below.

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