This week, Boston Dynamics introduced Stretch, a new robot prototype designed to move boxes around warehouses and distribution centers.
Stretch is no slouch, and can move up to 800 cases per hour picking up boxes around 50 pounds. The timing couldn't be more perfect as demand in e-commerce continues to surge.
The mobile pick-and-place robot is enabled by Boston Dynamics' computer vision technology and a base that allows it to maneuver in any direction and around obstacles. According to the company, the robot can adapt as facility layouts change, eliminating the costs associated with fixed automation infrastructure. It also has a footprint comparable to a pallet, which allows it to be easier to store. The robot is battery-powered with a charge that should last through an entire shift. It can also run continuously when plugged in.
Stretch's robotic arm has seven degrees of freedom with a long reach that helps it grab cases throughout a truck or pallet. The gripper is powered by embedded sensors and active control that make it easier to handle various packaging, including boxes and shrink-wrapped cases. In one example video, Stretch pulls a conveyor into a truck and unloads the shipment. The company plans to tackle order-building next.
Hoping to carve out a home in some of the 150,000 global warehouse facilities and distribution centers, Stretch hopes to take over "injury-prone case-handling tasks." However, that typically means at least one fewer job for a human capable of being injured.
Stretch will be on the market next year, but the company is now looking for partners for pilot programs to put Stretch to work on the dock. The company hasn't published a price yet, but check out the Stretch Early Adopter Program on the Boston Dynamics site if you're interested.
It's also not nearly as creepy as the Handle or even the ATLAS humanoid robot. I think they found a sweet spot by making the movement less natural.