22 Jul 2024


Mobile box-carrying robots will increase warehouse efficiency

The Stretch robot can handle up to 800 boxes autonomously in an hour

Boston Dynamics, the US company behind YouTube-starring robots such as Spot the robot dog, has entered the warehouse automation market with a wheeled box-handling robot that can pick up, transport and stack boxes autonomously. It can handle It can up to 800 boxes each weighing up to 23kg (50lb) in an hour.

The multi-purpose mobile robot, called Stretch, is designed to tackle a box-moving tasks from unloading trucks to order-building. Its on-board batteries will power it for up to eight hours before needing a recharge. Boston Robotics says the machine can work in any warehouse or logistics centre to increase the flow of goods, improve employee safety and cut fixed automation costs.

The robot’s small, omnidirectional mobile base allows Stretch to navigate loading docks, manoeuvre in tight spaces, and adapt to changing layouts, eliminating the need for costly fixed automation infrastructure. It uses a lightweight arm with eight degrees of freedom. Counterweights in the robot’s base allow it to handle the inertial forces of the arm with an attached load. At the end of the arm, a smart pneumatic gripper system with advanced sensing and controls can handle a variety of boxed and shrink-wrapped containers.

Machine vision technology – mounted, with other sensors, on a “perception mast” – allows the robot to identify boxes without extensive training. The vision system enables high pick rates.

Traditionally, warehouse automation has required either the installation of fixed infrastructure or the use of mobile robots that, according to Boston Robotics, “struggle to meet productivity requirements to be an attractive investment for warehouse operators”. Stretch, it argues, offers an easier path to automation by working in existing warehouses without needing costly reconfiguration or investments in new fixed infrastructure.

“Warehouses are struggling to meet rapidly increasing demand as the world relies more on just-in-time delivery of goods,” says Boston Dynamics’ CEO, Robert Playter. “Mobile robots enable the flexible movement of materials and improve working conditions for employees. 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.”

There are estimated to be around 150,000 warehouses and distribution centres around the world, about 80% of which do not have any form of automation.

Boston Dynamics is currently looking for customers to pilot-test the Stretch robot before its planned commercial launch in 2022. Pricing has not yet been revealed.

• The US television programme 60 Minutes has been allowed behind the scenes at Boston Dynamics. Its report can be viewed below.

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