Boston Dynamics' Omnidirectional Stretch Takes Aim at the Warehousing Industry

Launching in pilot form now, the highly-capable Stretch is due for commercial availability in 2022.

Robotics specialist and Spot creator Boston Dynamics has unveiled a new robot design built to improve the efficiency and safety of warehousing operations: Stretch, a beefed-up multifunction arm on an omnidirectional base.

Boston Dynamics is best known for its Spot quadrupedal robot, which has inspired a vast array of clone designs from the Spot Micro and SpotMini to the GoodBoy, ANYmal, Ghost Minitaur, Astro, and MABEL. Stretch, though, ditches the familiar self-balancing dog-like design in favor of something a little simpler: a hefty robot arm sitting on a box housing an omnidirectional drive system.

Stretch is Boston Dynamics' attempt to take the warehousing industry by robotic storm. (📹: Boston Dynamics)

"Warehouses are struggling to meet rapidly increasing demand as the world relies more on just-in-time delivery of goods," claims Robert Playter, Boston Dynamics' chief executive, of the company's decision to focus on the warehousing industry with its latest design. "Mobile robots enable the flexible movement of materials and improve working conditions for employees. Stretch combines Boston Dynamics' advancements in mobility, perception and manipulation to tackle the most challenging, injury-prone case-handling tasks, and we’re excited to see it put to work."

Stretch is built around an omnidirectional mobile base capable of zero-degree turning and movement in any direction — meaning it can manoeuvrer the cramped spaces of warehouses, loading docks, goods elevators, and the like. The powerful but lightweight arm mounted atop is designed to be able to capture and lift a range of boxed and shrink-wrapped goods, while an onboard computer vision system can identify goods with, the company claims, minimal per-customer training requirements.

The robot's design includes a "perception mast" housing the computer vision system, the seven-degrees-of-freedom (7DoF) robot arm with smart gripper, and the pallet-sized base; power, meanwhile, can be provided via an internal battery "through a full shift" or via shore power for continuous operation.

While the company is announcing Stretch now, it's not quite ready to begin selling the device: Boston Dynamics has confirmed the launch of a pilot program focused on truck unloading, to which interested parties can apply on the official website, with commercial deployment to begin in 2022 at an as-yet unannounced price.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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