SecondHands A.I. (machine learning)

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 An ambitious robotics project that combines artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced sensors to understand and assist humans in real time could be truly "revolutionary", according to the team working on it. The SecondHands humanoid, being developed for online supermarket Ocado, could soon be helping factory engineers fix mechanical faults and even learn on the job.

The robot will be completely autonomous and should be able to help with everything from fetching tools to holding objects and even assisting with cleaning and engineering tasks. The project is a collaboration between the technology arm of the online supermarket and four universities across the European Union. The robotics team at Ocado Technology believe it could become "the most advanced assistive robot in the world".

SecondHands will use 3D vision to see both depth and colour, with artificial intelligence allowing it to learn by example and respond to its surroundings. Once trained in a series of basic tasks the robot should be able to increase its own intelligence and act independently. SecondHands will also be able to understand natural speech, allowing it to respond to voice commands.

 "We want our technicians to be able to rely on these robots"
Graham Deacon, robotics research team leader, Ocado Technology

In order to operate in a factory designed for humans SecondHands will be based heavily on human morphology. Early versions might operate on wheels, but in the future the robot could move on tank tracks or even legs. It could also have extra abilities such as telescopic arms to make it more useful as an assistant. The robot will be flexible enough to work easily alongside humans, with torque-controlled arms, anthropomorphic hands and a bendable torso.

The robot will eventually be put to work alongside engineers at Ocado's vast logistics factories in the UK, which handle more than 167,000 orders per week. When something goes wrong with a mechanical component SecondHands will help engineers carry out repairs quickly and safely. It could also operate in areas too dangerous for humans, examining high-speed conveyors at close quarters and handling toxic materials. The EU is funding the project to the tune of €7m (£5.1m) as part of its Horizon2020 initiative to encourage researchers to work more closely with industry partners. As well as coordinating and contributing to the research Ocado will also be the end user, with the robots designed specifically for its factories. If the project is successful the team at Ocado are hopeful it will find uses elsewhere.

The first SecondHands prototype will be operational at an Ocado testing facility in 18 months time and it is hoped the final version will be assisting engineers in factories in 2020. Unlike current collaborative and assistive robots, such as those competing in the recent Darpa challenge, Ocado says SecondHands will work just as quickly as a human.

The robot will use artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced sensors to assist engineers autonomously


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