Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot gets its first job in DHL warehouses
Boston Dynamics has been in the robotics space for some time now, making its name with designs equal parts science fiction and creepiness thanks to its robots’ animal-like forms. The company has passed through several hands since it was spun out of MIT way back in 1992; it was acquired by Google in 2013 before it was sold to Japan’s Softbank in 2017. The company is now owned by Hyundai, which acquired an 80-percent stake with Softbank retaining the remaining 20-percent through an affiliate.
In its latest announcement, Boston Dynamics revealed it will deliver a fleet of Stretch robots to multiple DHL warehouses throughout North America over the next three years. When we were first introduced to Stretch early last year, it was obvious the robot is mundane in appearance compared to its more futuristic predecessors; at the same time, it’s clear Stretch has inherited many of the design and engineering breakthroughs pioneered in its preceding stablemates.
Stretch’s potential is obvious
Stretch looks like it belongs in a warehouse with an appearance akin to a driverless forklift. However, the robot is extremely maneuverable, versatile, and can be tasked with identifying boxes, reaching for them, and moving them to another location like a conveyor belt or truck.
At the end of its “stretchable” arm is a smart gripper with advanced sensing that allows it to grab boxes of differing sizes. The machine also comes equipped with Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology, enabling it to autonomously seek out and grab boxes without the need for special programming. Stretch can even work in and around disorganized box stacks and recover fallen boxes.
DHL Supply Chain North America CIO Sally Miller said about the new agreement:
At DHL Supply Chain, we are committed to continuous innovation and digital transformation to optimize the end-to-end supply chain. Investing in warehouse automation plays an important role in increasing operational efficiency and improving service for our customers. We’re excited to partner with Boston Dynamics to deploy its best-in-class robotics in our warehouses. The Stretch robot addresses complex industry challenges through flexible automation, which we’ll be able to replicate and scale regionally and globally.”
Increasing automation to improve supply chains
The deal with DHL is worth $15 million and is part of the company’s Accelerated Digitalization strategy. Stretch will be deployed at “select DHL facilities,” according to the company, where it will initially be tasked with unloading trucks. However, DHL’s plans include expanding Stretch into other areas of its warehouse workflows with a view towards automating additional warehouse operations.
The automation will help maintain supply chain continuity, which has been severely disrupted in recent times due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer demand for reliable and fast supply chain services makes the deployment of technology like Stretch inevitable.
Stretch also offers companies like DHL significant potential cost savings in reduced overhead related to staffing and benefits. It also reduces employee exposure to workplace injury and further disruptions to the supply chain. Undoubtedly, other logistics companies will be paying close attention to how Stretch works for DHL, but the robot seems well-placed to find more customers in the near future, assuming all goes well.
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January 30, 2022 at 01:37PM