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Stretch Box Lifting Robot

 

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Boston Dynamics has spent years posting creepy videos of lifelike robots, but it started selling its first real product last year in the form of a $75,000 robot dog called Spot. Now, the company has unveiled its second production model robot, and the first designed for commercial warehouse applications. It’s called Stretch, and you’ll be able to buy one next year. You might want to start saving up, though.

This is not Boston Dynamics‘ first foray into the world of box-hoisting robots. A few years ago, it revealed a machine called Handle. This bird-like robot scooted around on two-wheeled legs, dangling a mechanical arm with a grasper in front of it. The robot went on to make an appearance in the company’s 2020 farewell video, but it wasn’t the most practical design for a warehouse environment, and it looks like Boston Dynamics is moving on.

The new Stretch robot is much less visually impressive (and disconcerting) than Spot or Handle. The boxy base conceals good old-fashioned wheels, and atop that is the robotic arm complete with suction cup grasper and seven degrees of movement. There’s also a “perception mast” next to the arm that has cameras and laser sensors to help guide the automaton.

 

Stretch’s suction pad arm can lift boxes as heavy as 50 pounds (23 kilograms), which is about a third more mass than Handle could manage with its two-wheel design. However, the boxes need to be very boxy. If there’s no flat surface, Stretch can’t attach to it with the suction pad. Boston Dynamics didn’t specify, but I’d wager the computer vision system is also less able to identify oddly shaped objects.

BostonDynamics, which became part of Hyundai last year, designed Stretch in this way to make it useful to the maximum number of customers possible. It doesn’t require any existing automation infrastructure — it can roll down an aisle, go up a ramp into a truck, and stack the boxes anywhere there’s physical room for the robot to maneuver.

Boston Dynamics hopes to open sales of Stretch in 2022. For now, it’s looking for some partners who would like to test the robot as part of a pilot program. Interested parties can apply for access, but everyone else will have to wait for next year. Boston Dynamics hasn’t revealed the pricing, but it will no doubt be high. Spot is much less complex, and it’s 75 grand.

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