Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot can now pick multiple boxes simultaneously. This new ability, which the company calls Multipick, will help to improve the robot’s productivity to keep up with busy warehouses.
When approaching a trailer to unload, Stretch will decide how many boxes it might Multipick. It makes these decisions on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the size, individual properties, and placement of the boxes. Stretch also considers the properties of groups of boxes, like how well-aligned they are. The robot will then determine if it would be best to pick one, two, three, or even boxes at once.
To ensure that Stretch can securely acquire each individual box, Boston Dynamics has to ensure that the grip is exactly right on all of the boxes and that all the suction cups on Stretch’s gripper are engaged. Once the robot determines a grasp plan based on which boxes it wants to pick, that information is passed to the gripper control so it knows which suction cups it needs to engage.
When the gripper makes contact with the group of boxes, the gripper controller assesses whether it’s made sufficient suction with each box it’s trying to pick. This information is used again when placing the boxes so the robot knows which cups to turn off to release each box.
“Operators don’t need to do anything to activate multipick, since the feature is now integrated into the robot’s behavior,” Boston Dynamics said. “They simply drive the robot into place and set the robot to start as usual.”
Boston Dynamics began developing Stretch in 2018, and the robot was unveiled in 2021. Stretch comes with an 8-hour battery life, but there will be a 16-hour battery option and the ability to plug Stretch in for continuous power. Stretch uses the Pick vision system, which Boston Dynamics acquired when it bought Kinema System in April 2019. Pick uses high-resolution 2D and 3D vision and machine learning algorithms for robotic depalletizing. One of the main keys to success will be Stretch’s ability to handle a variety of boxes.
DHL Supply Chain was Boston Dynamics’ first Stretch customer back in January 2022, when the company announced a $15 million deal with Boston Dynamics. And we recently got our first look at those robots being put to work in DHL warehouses.
In a video released by Boston Dynamics, you can see Stretch using its suction gripper to unload boxes from a shipping container and onto a flexible or telescopic conveyor belt that brings the packages to DHL employees for processing. Once Stretch is set to start unloading, it does the work on its own without any interruption needed from DHL staff. Even when Stretch drops a package, it readjusts its methods and picks it back up again.
While this is Stretch’s first commercial deployment, DHL plans to gradually scale Stretch for more tasks across multiple facilities over the next few years. DHL is also hoping to integrate Stretch into its warehouse management system so the robot knows where to go and what to pick.
DHL isn’t the only company interested in using the Stretch robot. NFI, a third-party logistics provider (3PL), is spending $10 million to deploy the robot across its U.S. warehousing operations. Initially, Stretch will unload trucks and containers as a pilot program at NFI’s Savannah, GA facility. Additional deployments will take place over the next few years.
Otto Group, one of the world’s largest e-commerce retailers, signed an agreement with Boston Dynamics to help strengthen its logistics operations. Otto Group will deploy Spot robots in more than 10 facilities and Stretch robots in more than 20 over the next two years. The deployments will start with Hermes Fulfilment, and it will be the first time both of Boston Dynamics’ commercially available robots will be deployed together at an enterprise scale.