British online supermarket Ocado has announced a five-year project aiming to create an autonomous robotic warehouse employee.

SecondHands Small

British online supermarket Ocado has announced its SecondHands program: a five-year project aiming to create an autonomous robotic warehouse employee. An example of our “Cognitive Technology” trend in this year’s Future 100 report, the project could revolutionize the way factories handle repairs, logistics and more, but comes with its share of challenges.

The creators of SecondHands, which include Ocado employees and researchers at four EU universities, say the robot will understand and support human workers, handling tasks from high-risk inspections to grocery-packing.

Unlike existing factory robots, SecondHands will understand what it needs to do without external input from humans. Ocado is confident that its initial prototype will be fully functioning within two years.

Like many robotics projects before it, SecondHands promises to increase productivity by eliminating human error, sickness and other physical limitations. In societies with aging workforces, such technologies may arrive just in time to fill gaps in the labor supply. (We explore the need to retool for an aging world in our 10 Years of 10 Trends report).

At the same time, the role of robots in society continues to provoke unease in culture at large. The new UK television series Humans, for example, draws these misgivings into a domestic setting. How will consumers’ relationship with AI change as we grow to identify with, and depend upon robots in daily life? With industrial projects such as SecondHands well underway, domestic innovations in intelligent robotics cannot be far behind.

Image credit: Wired