It can’t do back flips like Atlas the humanoid robot, he also cannot dance or open doors for his friends, like Spot the Robotic Dog can. Instead, Boston Dynamics’ new robot, named Stretch, will go straight to work in a warehouse. Rolling on a wheeled base, it’s basically a large robotic arm that grips boxes using suction power, and it’s designed for tasks like unloading trucks or stacking. of pallets.
If Spot and Atlas are the stars of the family, Stretch is the workhorse. But while these machines all look and move very different, they actually share a lot of DNA. Stretch may sound familiar to you, as it’s sort of a descendant of another machine that debuted a few years ago: Manage. This robot had a similar suction arm, but it was balanced on two wheels, like a Segway scooter. The handle would grab a box, back up, turn 90 degrees, and roll to stack the box somewhere else.
It looked good on video, but in practice the robot needed a parcel space to operate. He could handle the unloading of boxes from a truck, of course. “But it took a long time,” says Kevin Blankespoor, warehouse robotics manager at Boston Dynamics. “The truck is a fairly confined space. And so for Handle, every time he grabbed the box, he would need to come back to a space where he could spin freely without collision.
Which means: if Handle was a human, he would be let go. So Boston Dynamics pivoted (sorry) to a new form factor for Stretch that slapped a similar robotic suction arm on a four-wheel base. Each wheel can move independently, so the robot can move side to side or forward and backward to orient, for example, at the back of a truck.
This new base granted two powers to Stretch. On the one hand, resting on four wheels is much more energy efficient than trying to constantly balance on two. The same goes for animals: a dog or cat is inherently more stable than a human. (Stretch will have 8 hours of battery life, and customers will have the option to upgrade to a dual battery that holds 16 hours of charge.) The second benefit is that Stretch’s arm can now pivot around its base, while Handle had to rotate his whole body to spin.
This arm can lift 50 pounds but is a quarter of the weight of a typical industrial robot arm, says Blankespoor. And curiously, this is where he shares the DNA of design the most with his cousin, Spot the robot dog. “If you look closely at the wrist joints for Stretch, they are identical to the hips in Spot,” says Blankespoor. “We use the same electric motors, gearboxes and sensors on these joints through Stretch and Spot, and we use the same software to control the joints.”