Boston Dynamics' latest robot is a warehouse workhorse

When does this thing get to unionize?

Robotics company Boston Dynamics is making one of its latest robots more generally commercially available: a mobile, autonomous arm called Stretch.

Stretch is outfitted with a vacuum gripping arm able to move a wide variety of box types and sizes, up to 50 pounds (≈22.7kg). Its footprint is about that of a warehouse pallet, and it can move around on its own, which Boston Dynamics said makes it a good fit for companies trying to automate without building a whole new factory.

"Stretch offers logistics providers an easier path to automation by working within existing warehouse spaces and operations, without requiring costly reconfiguration or investments in new fixed infrastructure," Boston Dynamics said this week.

stretch, boston dynamic's autonomous robot arm

Not much a stretch ... What Boston Dynamics' new robot looks like. Source: Boston Dynamics. Click to enlarge

Stretch's base is omnidirectional, and the robot uses computer vision to navigate, distinguish individual boxes and even recover those that shift or fall. Stretch also requires a minimum of training, and no pre-programming on SKU numbers or information on the boxes it will move. Instead, Boston Dynamics said it works in real time "without the need for explicit directions or supervision," which it can do for up to 16 hours on a single charge. 

New customers can reportedly get Stretch installed and operating in an existing warehouse in only a few days.

Stretch is apparently able to unload trailers and containers, navigate tight spaces and take the heavy lifting off of human employees, which Boston Dynamics said was a goal, along with improving warehouse safety. 

Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics, said labor shortages and supply chain issues were another way to make logistics operations "more efficient and predictable."

Automation in general is expected to eliminate 12 million jobs in Europe by 2040.

Supplies stretched thin

BD first showed Stretch off in 2021. The biz said early testers were so pleased with the machine that those customers (which included DHL, Gap, H&M, and Performance Team – A Maersk Company) bought out the entire supply. DHL alone spent $15 million on sending Stretch to its various factories, we're told. 

Customers interested in getting a Stretch or two for their own warehouses will have to wait for the 2023 and 2024 delivery cycles, for which reservations are now being taken.

There's no word on the price – we did ask BD – but for reference, Boston Dynamics' other commercially available robot, Spot, started at $75,000 when it went on sale in 2020.

Spot itself was fitted with an extendable robot arm attachment after being sold to insurers to help its agents with property inspections and "in-field catastrophe claims."

The robot dog has already been deployed to check out nuclear power plants, probe suspicious packages, maintain COVID social distancing rules during the pandemic and – briefly – worked as a police dog in New York before being relieved of active duty. ®

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