Scientists have used artificial intelligence to control a robotic arm that provides a more efficient way to pack boxes, saving businesses time and money.
Tightly packing products picked from an unorganised pile remains largely a manual task, even though it is critical to warehouse efficiency.
Automating such tasks is important for companies' competitiveness and allows people to focus on less menial and physically taxing work, according to the researchers from the Rutgers University in the US.
"We can achieve low-cost, automated solutions that are easily deployable. The key is to make minimal but effective hardware choices and focus on robust algorithms and software," said Kostas Bekris, an associate professor at Rutgers University.
Researchers focused on placing objects from a bin into a small shipping box and tightly arranging them. This is a more difficult task for a robot compared with just picking up an object and dropping it into a box.
The team developed software and algorithms for their robotic arm. They used visual data and a simple suction cup, which doubles as a finger for pushing objects.
The resulting system can topple objects to get a desirable surface for grabbing them. Furthermore, it uses sensor data to pull objects toward a targeted area and push objects together.
During these operations, it uses real-time monitoring to detect and avoid potential failures.
Since the study focused on packing cube-shaped objects, a next step would be to explore packing objects of different shapes and sizes.
Another step would be to explore automatic learning by the robotic system after it's given a specific task.