The robot arm is performing a peculiar kind of Sisyphean task. It hovers over a glistening pile of cooked chicken parts, dips down, and retrieves a single piece.

A moment later, it swings around and places the chunk of chicken, ever so gently, into a bento box moving along a conveyor belt. This robot, created by a San Francisco–based company called Osaro, is smarter than any you’ve seen before.

The software that controls it has taught it to pick and place chicken in about five seconds—faster than your average food-processing worker. Within the year, Osaro expects its robots to find work in a Japanese food factory.

Anyone worried about a robot uprising need only step inside a modern factory to see how far away that is. Most robots are powerful and precise but can’t do anything unless programmed meticulously.

An ordinary robot arm lacks the sense needed to pick up an object if it is moved an inch. It is completely hopeless at gripping something unfamiliar; it doesn’t know the difference between a marshmallow and a cube of lead. Read more from…

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