Boston Dynamics is at it again with another industrial robot. So far, we’ve seen spot the robot dog for sheep herding, Atlas the humanoid robot for search and rescue, and Handle for warehouse tasks. Now the company is introducing a new warehouse robot: Stretch.
Stretch the Warehouse Robot
Frankly, Stretch the warehouse robot looks much more functional than the other robots. You can trust Stretch to get the job done. Not that you couldn’t trust Spot, Atlas, and Handle, but Stretch really looks like he’ll get the job done.
Stretch has a very large robotic arm on a square box with wheels. It was created to unload trucks and stack pallets. I want to park it in my kitchen for reaching objects on the top shelf.
This robot is actually the newer, younger sibling of Handle, who had a similar arm but rolled on just two wheels instead of a large base. Again, Stretch is a more functional warehouse robot, as it handles tasks straight on.
Kevin Blankespoor, warehouse robotics lead at Boston Dynamics, said it took Handle too long to unload a truck. “The truck is a pretty confined space. And so for Handle, every time it grabbed the box, it would need to roll back into some space where it could rotate freely without collisions,” he said.
Stretch’s base has four wheels underneath, and they each move independently, so it doesn’t have the same mobility issue. Another change with Stretch is that its arm can pivot around its base instead of having to turn its whole body as Handle did.
Also, it doesn’t waste as much energy since it doesn’t have the balance concerns. It will get eight hours of battery life but can also ship with an additional battery to get 16 hours in a day for those warehouses that have multiple shifts.
Stretch is strong, too. The robotic arm can lift 50 pounds yet only weighs 25 percent of what a usual industrial robotic arm does. It also boasts strong hips, just like Spot, the robotic dog.
Blankespoor explained, “We use the same electric motors and gearboxes and sensors on those joints across Stretch and Spot, and we use the same software to control the joints.” Many of the same cameras and sensors are used on Stretch and Spot, as well as Atlas.
“It can go up and down ramps, but it’s not going to go hiking with you like Spot,” said Blankespoor of the newer warehouse robot. “So it’s kind of a balancing act – we don’t want more complexity than we need.”
Future Stretch Technology
To stack boxes, Stretch uses vacuum-powered suction cups. Boston Dynamics is working on an even more functional gripper that will be able to grip triangular surfaces.
Warehouse laborers don’t need to worry about being replaced, as the goal is for Stretch to complement human workers, not take their jobs. The warehouse manager would assign it tasks. “You can think of it like a sophisticated power tool to help warehouse operators get their job done,” said Blankespoor.
Stretch is expected to be available next year. It seems like its job will be to increase efficiency at warehouses.
Now that Boston Dynamics seem to finally have the warehouse robot idea nailed down, it could be interesting to see what the company comes up with next, whether it will be functional like Stretch or more playful like Spot.
Read on to learn about the possibilities with wearable robotics.
Image Credit: Introducing Stretch