Stretch, Boston Dynamics next commercial robot

Boston Dynamics quest continues with the announcement of a second commercial robot, Stretch, a mobile, box-shaped robot designed to meet the requirements of warehouses and distribution centers. After 28 years of research and development, Boston Dynamics entered the commercial robotics market last year with the launch of the Spot dog. Spot costs about $ 75,000 and can walk around facilities to conduct remote inspections, and, using the extra arm attachment, can unlock doors remotely. The Stretch robot is designed to work in warehouse and unload trucks, and the company hopes companies will start buying the robot when it reaches commercial deployment in 2022. 

With a clear demand for warehouse robots, Boston Dynamics began experimenting with the Handle Robot. Handle came alive based on a new two-legged, wheeled transport platform, but with wheels at the bottom instead of the feet, allowing for all kinds of movement. The first version of the Handle was a human-like robot that could do all kinds of movements thanks to its wheel legs, but the robot wasn't intended for warehouse work yet. For the second version, Handle was reimagined from what seemed to be a regular robot to a storeroom robot, and in place of its arms, it used a large handle to lift boxes.

Using the Handle, Boston Dynamics has gone so far as to experiment with customers, but Hand's problem is that sometimes warehouse work has to be done in a confined space, like unloading a truck, and the robot has problems. It became apparent that maneuvering in the tight space was difficult for Handle, leading the company to consider another option, Stretch. The new robot is considered the first Boston Dynamics robot to be fully built for the warehouse, and the robot is installed on a large box, so it is stable by default and does not have to balance.

The robot weighs 1200kg, so there is no need for a large and swinging counterweight when lifting, and the robot will not tip over. The arm can rotate around the top of the base, so it can unload boxes from a truck to a conveyor belt without having to move and hit something. The result is that Stretch can unload a truckload five times faster than the Handle, and can transport up to 800 boxes per hour. Wheels on each corner of the box, all with independent steering, allow the Stretch to move in any direction, including turning in place.

The giant base also means there's plenty of battery space, enough to run Stretch during an eight-hour work shift, or up to 16 hours with an extended range option. There is also a perception mast, which is a large tower that sits on the rotating base itself like the arm and houses most of the robot's sensors, and the mast contains two-dimensional sensors and depth sensors, which gives the robot a high view of its surroundings.

To see, the robot uses Boston Dynamics' Pick, a set of machine learning algorithms to detect and move boxes. The Stretch base contains a standard interface where you can attach many accessories, such as: a conveyor belt and a stretcher, and additional sensors can be attached to the base, either to perceive the situation, such as: additional cameras or lidar, or a barcode reader for input.

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