The researchers are programming a robotic hand to pick up an object and "then to use information learned in that first grip to grasp and move a whole range of similar objects," according to The Engineer.
This will enable robots to be used in more complex environements, the researchers say, especially where robots and humans collaborate.
Here's more from The Engineer:
"Current robot manipulation relies on the robot knowing the exact shape of the object," said Jeremy Wyatt, Professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at the University of Birmingham.
"If you put that robot into an unstructured environment, for example if it is trying to pick up an object amongst clutter, or an object for which it doesn't already have an exact model, it will struggle.
"The programming we have developed allows the robot to assess the object and generate around 1000 different grasp options in about 5 seconds.
"That means the robot is able to make choices in real time about the best grasp for the object it has been told to pick up and it doesn't need to be continually retrained each time the object changes."