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The “pick-and-place” system consists of a standard industrial robotic arm that the researchers outfitted with a custom gripper and suction cup. They developed an “object-agnostic” grasping algorithm that enables the robot to assess a bin of random objects and determine the best way to grip or suction onto an item amid the clutter, without having to know anything about the object before picking it up.

Robotic picker grasps and packs

Unloading basic needs is a clear but dreary undertaking: You venture into a sack, look about for a thing, and haul it out. A...