Meet the new Boston Dynamics robot, Stretch

30 Mar 2021

Stretch. Image: Boston Dynamics

The company that developed Spot the robot dog has now unveiled Stretch, a new robot that can work alongside humans to speed up warehouse operations.

While a lot of talk about automation in the future refers to AI and chatbots designed to make our working life easier, some automation comes in the form of physical, mobile robots that may once have seemed like sci-fi.

Robotics company Boston Dynamics has been at the forefront of developing such robots, most notably with its dog-like robot Spot, which can complete autonomous inspection rounds with its sensors and can even open doors with a specially designed arm.

Now, the robotics company has revealed Stretch, a new box-moving robot designed to support the growing demand for automation in the logistics industry.

Stretch marks Boston Dynamics’ debut into warehouse automation and comes after a year of pandemic restrictions have driven up e-commerce sales and delivery demands.

The new robot is designed to tackle a number of tasks in warehouse facilities and distribution centers where rapid box moving is required, first starting with truck unloading and later expanding into order building.

According to the company, the robot’s omni-directional mobile base allows it to navigate loading docks, manoeuvre in tight spaces and adapt to changing facility layouts.

It is equipped with a custom-designed lightweight arm and a smart-gripper with advanced sensing and controls that can handle a large variety of boxes.

While traditional warehouse automation approaches can often require fixed infrastructure, Boston Dynamics said Stretch offers an easier path by working within existing warehouse spaces without needing a new fixed infrastructure.

“Mobile robots enable the flexible movement of materials and improve working conditions for employees,” said Robert Playter, CEO of the robotics company.

“Stretch combines Boston Dynamics’ advancements in mobility, perception and manipulation to tackle the most challenging, injury-prone case-handling tasks, and we’re excited to see it put to work.”

Stretch is a descendent of Handle, the Boston Dynamics robot that can jump and pick up boxes weighing 45kg.

The company is planning commercial deployment for Stretch in 2022 and is currently seeking customers to pilot test the robot with truck unloading tasks.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic