John Lewis partners with UK robotics companies to create blueprint for robot-human interaction

John Lewis has partnered with various UK robotics companies to create a blueprint for human-robot interaction as it continued to develop its own autonomous robots.

Set to be unveiled today at Google’s London HQ, the department store has joined forces with the Small Robot Company, Method, and numerous other robotics developers from the UK, with the aim of creating an environment of safe and ethical adoption of robots in British industry.

“Britain is a melting pot for robotics innovation and the use of autonomous robot technology to assist human workers is a very real prospect for the future,” John Lewis’ John Vary said.

“Before we get there, we need to define how that relationship works. The John Lewis Partnership started out as a radical experiment in industrial democracy and innovation continues to remain at the heart of our business today. Therefore we are uniquely placed to support businesses like the Small Robot Company as this technology evolves.”

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This comes after John Lewis announced plans to roll out “revolutionary farmbots” at one of its farms in Hampshire in an bid to take “farming into the digital age” last year.

Three autonomous robots called Tom, Dick and Harry, which were developed by the Small Robot Company, were launched at the Leckford Estate where produce for Waitrose is grown.

As part of the three-year trial, each robot will be employed to carry out different tasks.

Tom will start the field trial, using cameras to gather topographical data and create an accurate “plant-by-plant” view of the wheat field.

The Small Robot Company’s team will then use this data to improve efficiency, create a valuable insight into Leckford, and further develop its AI capabilities.

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Its AI system, dubbed Wilma, will help improve the bots’ ability to do various things like differentiate between weeds and terrain, and will in turn be used to develop upcoming prototypes and autonomously guide all three robots.

Dick is a prototype precision weeding robot which will use machine learning to determine what is a weed and what is crop, and kill them with lasers.

Harry will be a digital planting robot able to accurately punch-plant seeds at uniform depth and create a plant level map showing the exact location of each seed.

Co-founder of the Small Robot Company Sam Watson Jones said: “We’re on the cusp of a fourth agricultural revolution, taking farming into the digital age: and with British ideas and British technology at the helm. Our Tom, Dick and Harry robots will completely transform what’s possible on the farm.”

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