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It’s not so great for viral videos, but it cleans up the warehouse: Boston Dynamics’ latest robot, Stretch, is launching at logistics giant DHL.

In March 2021, Boston Dynamics unveiled its new Stretch logistics robot: The mobile lifting arm maneuvers through narrow warehouse aisles on a four-wheeled pedestal. Via the “perception mast,” as Boston Dynamics calls the sensor rod in the middle, Stretch visually orients itself in space, recognizes people and goods, and avoids collisions.

With the suction head on the mechanical arm that can move in any direction, it picks up objects weighing up to 23 kg and deposits them elsewhere. Stretch is said by Boston Dynamics to be able to move up to 800 objects per hour, which would be on par with human workers.

DHL launches with Boston Dynamics Stretch

Now Boston Dynamics is announcing a first customer for Stretch: DHL wants to test the robot in its warehouses in North America. The logistics company is paying $15 million for an unspecified fleet of Stretch robots. The robots could become part of a more widespread partial automation of DHL’s warehouses.

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“DHL plans to gradually scale Boston Dynamics robots for additional tasks and across multiple facilities over the next few years,” the press release says. The rollout will start this spring.

DHL says Stretch can autonomously handle complex situations such as disordered stack configurations and also recover dropped boxes.

Boston Dynamics aims to automate warehouses worldwide

The DHL deal could be a big step toward a more lucrative future for robotics company Boston Dynamics, which is now part of Hyundai. Until now, Boston Dynamics, founded in 1992, has been known for its cleverly staged research and development projects on YouTube, but not for its commercial successes in the practical use of robots.

The first robot, Spot, has only been on sale since June 2020, and the humanoid model Atlas has yet to make it out of the lab. Stretch, compared to these models, is designed to be much more focused on solving a single problem.

According to Boston Dynamics, Stretch is of particular interest to companies whose warehouses are not suitable for automation – this is said to apply to 80 percent of the world’s warehouses – because it can be flexibly integrated into existing work processes. Stretch’s battery should last around one working day.

Recommendation

In the future, Boston Dynamics wants to present a new, practical robot that solves industry-specific problems approximately every three to five years, according to Boston Dynamics CEO Robert Playter.

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Online journalist Matthias is the co-founder and publisher of THE DECODER. He believes that artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the relationship between humans and computers.
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