Boston Dynamics has launched its second commercial robot. After launching its four-legged robot dog Spot in 2020 for $75,000, the company is now showing the commercial version of Stretch, a robot for moving storage boxes that is available for purchase.
Stretch arrived as a prototype in March 2021 and was refined into a commercial product after a year of field testing and further development. The bot’s purpose is still the same: it’s a box mover. Stretch is a warehouse worker tasked with quickly unloading trucks, depalletizing boxes, and building jobs without having to build additional infrastructure.
Crate moving arms aren’t anything new, but they’re usually stationary, which means you’ll have to bolt them to the floor in a specific spot and design your camp around the robot’s location. Stretch is mounted on a large base with wheels, giving it a more human-like flexibility in its tasks throughout the day. You can have stretch driven straight into a truck and offload a few boxes in the morning and drive on to the job building later in the afternoon. The base is the same size as a pallet, so it can be used almost anywhere in a warehouse.
The commercial version of Stretch has changed a lot since last year’s prototype. Boston Dynamics tells us that the production version is “scale engineered” and that there have been improvements to the components to improve manufacturability and cost. A new feature is that when a stack of boxes falls over, Stretch can autonomously recover the fallen boxes. The commercial version of Stretch can lift up to 50 pounds and runs for 16 hours on a high capacity battery option.
The pictures say a lot. The fit and finish have improved dramatically since last year. It looks like the body’s plastic cladding has been overhauled, with every part of the robot now having smooth, rounded edges. The prototype is bolted to the base with a series of uneven, flat plates and a bunch of loose wires, while the commercial version wraps it all up in nicer packaging.
Surprisingly, if you zoom in on the photos, many of the panels in the base look 3D printed. Telltale stair steps are visible around the perimeter of the front white panel, and the round base section shows horizontal lines from the print layers and vertical streaks from the individual polygons, representing a circle in the CAD file. With the Hyundai acquisition, I was expecting a more car-like manufacturing process (big fiberglass panels), but it looks like we’re not there yet.
If we assume Stretch’s business end, the vacuum box grab is now boxy– a rectangle – instead of the prototype’s hexagonal gripper, with 50 small suction heads instead of the prototype’s 18 larger heads. The arm geometry is completely different. The prototype stretch featured a large arc shape in each arm segment, while the commercial stretch used more traditional straight arm segments. Where the arm connects to the base, the prototype Stretch had a large, white rectangle shape that looked a bit like a torso, while the commercial version turned this into a round base on the large square chassis. In both versions, this base rotates as the robot’s primary pivot, so it makes sense that it’s round.
The large tower in the background, the “perception mast,” is the primary way Stretch sees its surroundings, and now the mast has all of its components nicely integrated into a plastic shell. It also looks a bit smaller than the original. Last year we were told that LIDAR would be integrated into the base of the robot for the production version. A good spot for these sensors would be the new wide, horizontal slots on the underside of the robot’s base, which would ensure Stretch didn’t step over a foot or bump into anything.
Stretch is available for purchase but the price is not public so you will need to call the Boston Dynamics sales team. Whatever the cost, it seems stretch is already a hit. The company’s press release states: “Stretch has been in pilot trials with a select group of customers for the past few months. All units scheduled for delivery for 2022 have already sold out thanks to strong demand from these early customers.” Boston Dynamics is now accepting stretch reservations for 2023 and 2024.
Past customers include DHL, Gap, H&M and logistics company Performance Team. DHL placed a multi-year, $15 million order announced in January. That deal apparently came with a sweet new livery, and DHL will now have branded yellow robots roaming around the warehouse. Unfortunately, there is no YouTube video of the new bot in action yet.