Robotics company Boston Dynamics is releasing one of its latest robots more broadly: a mobile, autonomous arm called Stretch.
Stretch features a vacuum gripper arm capable of handling a variety of box types and sizes up to 50 pounds (≈22.7 kg). Its footprint is roughly that of a warehouse pallet and it can move on its own, which Boston Dynamics says makes it a good solution for companies trying to automate without building a whole new factory.
“Stretch offers logistics providers an easier path to automation by working within existing warehouse spaces and operations without requiring costly reconfigurations or investment in new fixed infrastructure,” Boston Dynamics said this week.
Not much effort… This is what the new robot from Boston Dynamics looks like. Source: Boston Dynamics. click to enlarge
Stretch’s base is omnidirectional, and the robot uses computer vision to navigate, distinguish individual boxes, and even retrieve those that shift or fall. Stretch also requires a minimum of training and no pre-programming of SKU numbers or information about the boxes to be moved. Instead, Boston Dynamics said it works in real-time “without the need for explicit instruction or supervision,” which is capable of lasting up to 16 hours on a single charge.
According to reports, new customers can have Stretch installed and running in an existing warehouse in just a few days.
Stretch appears to be able to unload trailers and containers, navigate tight spaces, and facilitate heavy lifting by human workers, which Boston Dynamics cited as a goal, along with improving warehouse safety.
Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter said labor shortages and supply chain issues are another way to make logistics operations “more efficient and predictable.”
Automation in general is expected to eliminate 12 million jobs in Europe by 2040.
Inventories stretched thin
BD first showed Stretch in 2021 and it said early testers were so pleased that the group (which included DHL, Gap, H&M and Performance Team – A Maersk Company) bought up the entire existing offering. DHL alone has spent $15 million shipping stretch to its various factories, we’re told.
Customers interested in getting a stretch or two for their own warehouses will have to wait for the 2023 and 2024 delivery cycles, for which reservations are now being taken.
There’s no word on price — we asked BD — but for reference, Boston Dynamics’ other commercially available robot, Spot, started at $75,000 when it went on sale in 2020.
Spot itself, after selling it to insurers, was fitted with an extendable robotic arm attachment to help its agents with property inspections and “on-site disaster claims.”
The robotic dog was already being used to check nuclear plants, examine suspicious packages, comply with COVID social distancing rules during the pandemic and – briefly – work as a police dog in New York before being retired from active duty. ®