The topic addressed by SecondHands is to advance abilities and key technologies relevant to industrial robotics and to improve the technology readiness level in the areas of cognition, human-robot interaction, mechatronics, and perception.

SecondHands aims to develop a robot assistant that is trained to understand maintenance tasks so that it can either pro-actively, or as a result of prompting, offer assistance to automation maintenance technicians performing routine and preventative maintenance. Conceptually the robot’s task is to provide a second pair of hands to the maintenance technician, such that once the robot has been trained, it can predict when it can usefully provide help and knows which actions to take to provide it.

In general, industrial automation is designed to incorporate as little flexibility as necessary to perform its core function – the basic concept of a production line. In an industrial environment, flexibility is traded for simplicity and repeatability in order to leverage efficiency. However, even these simple and efficient automated systems still require maintenance, as they cannot maintain themselves. The industrial sites that house these systems are often designed with only secondary consideration given to maintenance tasks and the necessary access by a human. There is usually no consideration of enabling an access to a robot.

To operate within environments designed primarily for industrial efficiency, but centred around a human workforce, a robot should possess a rich repertoire of human-like skills, and probably a humanoid or human-like form, specifically in order to use the same methods of access.

The scope of work includes the construction of a robot assistant and its control architecture, the systems that facilitate its training, the actual training on a number of representative tasks, and validation of the system’s ability to usefully contribute to tasks in collaboration with a maintenance technician. To ensure the correctness of our goals and the genuine usefulness of the SecondHands robot, we will verify its capability against a series of real maintenance tasks that occur within the Ocado’s highly automated Customer Fulfilment Centres (CFCs).

Slides presented at European Robotics Forum 2015 in Vienna, summarising this project, can be found here.