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Robo-Baggers Could Become a Reality

AI-enabled “soft-handed” robot for packing groceries being developed by MIT




A robot bagging groceries could one day be a regular part of the shopping experience. Photo: photobac/iStock by Getty Images

You can add grocery baggers to the list of AI-endangered jobs.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory are working on a new artificial intelligence-enabled “soft-handed” robot system they say can bag common grocery store staples like fruit, chips and cans of soup, Popular Science reports. A custom algorithm also helps the robot separate out delicate items to avoid crushing them. The result: a prototype robot able to pack a bag of standard groceries without mashing the merchandise.

Here are excerpts from the PS article on some specific elements of the MIT robo-bagger systems:

“An RGB-D camera equipped with computer vision technology allows the robot to identify items approaching it on a conveyor belt and estimate their overall sizes. That initial estimate helped the robot determine where to grab each item…

“Once the items make their way to the robot, it then uses finger-like soft grippers to pick them up. Pressure sensors loaded on the grippers lets the robot feel the item and make a determination to whether it’s delicate or not.

“Finally, an onboard AI algorithm helps it assign a “delicacy score” to each item. Items with a high score, like fruit or chips, are placed to the side while less delicate items like soup cans or cereal are bagged right away. Once the more rigid items are packed, the robot goes back and places the delicate items on top to prevent them from getting crushed or otherwise damaged.”


Despite the potential of such a system, frustrations and resistance to automated checkout systems could make it even more difficult for bagging robots to ever gain a meaningful foothold, PS notes. “Still, just like self-checkout before it, bagging robots of the future could appear enticing to grocery store chains as yet one more avenue to reduce costs on already-dwindling human jobs,” the article concludes.

Click here for the full Popular Science article.


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