Sunday, April 18, 2021

Boston Dynamics presents new robot to move boxes in warehouses

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A North American company Boston Dynamics, known for its robot dog Spot, presented a new robot designed to move boxes in warehouses.

Called Stretch, the robot has a square mobile base with a set of wheels, a “perception mast” with cameras and other sensors, and a huge robotic arm with seven degrees of freedom and an array of suction cups at the end that can grab and move boxes weighing up to 23 kilograms.

According to The Verge, which links Stretch to other machines in the Boston Dynamics it’s the focus on mobility.

Typically, when automation equipment is installed in warehouses, the system is bolted to a location with a workflow modeled around it. Stretch is designed to move in any workplace where it can be useful for loading or unloading goods.

“This is what’s exciting about this system: it can provide automation for environments that don’t have automation infrastructure,” said Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics. “You can take this feature and move it to the back of the truck, you can move it to the aisles, you can move it alongside your transporters. It all depends on what is the problem of the day“.

About 80% of the warehouses in the world do not have any automation equipment, which gives the company an affordable market of considerable size. This will allow the Boston Dynamics reach customers who would otherwise avoid automation because it is too expensive or time-consuming to integrate.

However, Stretch does not yet have a price tag.

A Boston Dynamics has shown interest in the logistics space since 2019, when it acquired the Kinema Systems, a company that manufactures software of machine vision for robots in warehouses.

Then he designed a robot with wheels called Handle, who could move boxes using a robotic arm, balancing itself with a huge swinging counterweight like a tail. According to Perry, Handle it had “the right footprint and the right reach” for warehouses, but it couldn’t work fast enough.

The robot arm is directly connected to its main body, which means that the entire machine had to move with each charge. Already Stretch arm spin freely thanks to some smart counterweights hidden inside its square base.

“This is really the secret ingredient,” said Perry. “This base can withstand the inertial force of the arm plus the box to swing with a quick weight, without having to rely on a steel plate of several thousand pounds bolted to the floor”.

Stretch lineage can be traced back to the robot Atlas two-legged Boston Dynamics, who manages to balance his weight so smoothly that he can run, jump and somersault.

According to the company, the Stretch it achieves move up to 800 boxes per hour, a production rate comparable to that of a human employee. With high capacity batteries, the robot can operate for eight hours before it needs to be recharged.

A Boston Dynamics further states that the robot can be operated by anyone with just a few hours of training and that its mobile base allows it to fit into spaces designed for humans.

The company is now looking for customers to pilot the Stretch test and is aiming for commercial deployment in 2022.

Maria Campos, ZAP //

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