A five-year European Union (EU) challenge to develop a collaborative humanoid that helps employees in industrial environments has concluded, with the individuals touting breakthroughs in “AI learning, natural language processing, and robotic manipulation.”

The SecondHands challenge, born from the EU’s €80 billion ($87 billion) Horizon 2020 analysis program, set out again in 2015 to develop what it referred to as a “second pair of hands” for employees in factories, warehouses, and different industrial areas. The intention was to create a robotic assistant that’s “proactive” in serving to technicians elevate or carry objects, performing as an apprentice-like helper that carries out the less-skilled sides of a job. The challenge was developed beneath the auspices of a consortium of researchers and pc scientists from a variety of organizations, together with Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT); Sapienza, University of Rome; University College London (UCL); and Ocado Technology, the know-how division of the U.Ok.’s online-only grocery big Ocado.

The fruits of this system was a robot called ARMAR-6, which was developed at KIT in Germany to advance analysis into human-robot interplay in a structured, supervised setting.


Over the previous couple of years, ARMAR-6 has been examined at Ocado’s automated buyer success facilities within the U.Ok. to carry out upkeep on its conveyor belt system — basically trialing the usage of robots to assist repair different robots. The thought is {that a} upkeep technician may very well be on the high of a ladder with a device of their hand, and as they stretch their arm out to position the device down, the robotic would observe their motion and take it from them.

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Moreover, ARMAR-6 was designed to study and adapt to real-world conditions, reminiscent of greedy an object when somebody needs to maneuver it from one location to a different.

EU robotics project gives maintenance workers a ‘second pair of hands’

Above: ARMAR-6 in motion

Image Credit: H2020 SecondHands Consortium, by way of Ocado Technology

ARMAR-6 sports activities a variety of sensors and cameras, together with a telescopic torso and rotatable arms, fingers, and fingers that may grasp. Crucially, it could possibly work together with its setting utilizing simply visible knowledge, detecting the place people are and estimating their posture purely from real-time photographs.

EU robotics project gives maintenance workers a ‘second pair of hands’

Above: ARMAR-6 utilizing real-time visible knowledge for pose estimation

Image Credit: H2020 SecondHands Consortium, by way of Ocado Technology

A serious a part of the challenge was additionally showcasing how ARMAR-6 may keep away from collisions in a fast-moving industrial setting, the place static and dynamic obstacles — together with people — are widespread.

EU robotics project gives maintenance workers a ‘second pair of hands’

Above: ARMAR-6 avoiding dynamic and static objects, together with people

Image Credit: H2020 SecondHands Consortium, by way of Ocado Technology

Among different notable developments from the challenge is the creation of a speech interface primarily based fully on neural fashions, together with all-neural speech synthesis and all-neural speech recognition. Such breakthroughs, in keeping with KIT’s Dr. Sebastian Stüker, will result in “better acceptance of ‘cobots’ by humans” and facilitate a extra pure interplay between people and robots.


SecondHands’ broader objective was to assist transition humanoid assistants from analysis labs to trade settings, with Ocado the primary stepping stone on that journey. With the challenge now formally concluded, plans are in place to use findings to different sectors and use instances, together with autonomous autos and the oil and fuel trade.

Ocado gained’t be deploying ARMAR-6 at is success facilities, which suggests it’s not fairly prepared for a industrial setting. But numerous undisclosed ARMAR-6 tasks are underway in different industries, so it may assist speed up the usage of humanoid assistants in the actual world.

“The results of this project have shown categorically how robots can amplify the benefits of human expertise,” mentioned Graham Deacon, robotics analysis fellow at Ocado Technology. “We’ll continue to build on these learnings, looking forward to a future when we can use these breakthroughs to apply them in a real-world setting.”

This challenge additionally highlights the necessity for academia and trade to work in tandem. There’s no level creating AI-infused robots in a laboratory setting in the event that they fail on the first hurdle in the actual world.

The timing of SecondHands’ conclusion can be notable, as international locations are embracing extra automation attributable to social-distancing measures enforced by the COVID-19 disaster. In the long run, the applied sciences that underpin ARMAR-6 may very well be redeployed in different environments, reminiscent of “helping to reduce contamination, or in assisted living,” in keeping with Deacon.