Announced at the Robotics Summit & Expo in May 2018, the new version of the Handle Robot by Boston Dynamics has just burst on the scene. With a humanoid appearance, this very agile robot could provide considerable support to warehouse staff within a few years.
The Boston Dynamics Company
A brainchild of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston Dynamics designs robots with dexterity, mobility, speed and agility. Using their advanced analytical thinking and inventive spirit, international development teams of engineers and scientists are working on the different phases of the project: initial design, creation of prototypes, field testing and low cost production. More than 20 years after its creation (in 1992) the company was bought by Google on December 13, 2013, then brought under Alphabet in 2015, before being acquired by SoftBank. Wishing to cross new boundaries, Boston Dynamics incorporates increasingly advanced electronic elements as well as software for perception, navigation and intelligence.
Its main achievements
This American company, located in Massachusetts, began by designing robots that move and act like animals, such as BigDog (a one-metre high robot with four legs than can run at 10 km/hr and carry 150 kg) or WildCat (a robot that can trot, leap or gallop and reach a speed of 21 km/hr. As Boston Dynamics is a partner and supplier of the US Army, some of its robots can: 1) carry heavy loads, up to 182 kg of equipment for the Ls3 (1.7 m high) which accompanies the Marines on 32-km missions for 24 hours; 2) move on all types of terrain like the RHEX, a 14-cm high robot that moves on rocks, in mud, on sand, along telephone poles or even on stairs.
Robots and supply chains
The retail sector is also taking advantage of Boston Dynamics’ technical and technological advances. Pick was the world’s first computer-guided depalletizing robot based on deep learning. Its high-resolution 2D and 3D detectors allow it to locate a wide variety of boxes and integrate movement and vision to maximize the rate of movement of boxes. Meanwhile Handle, whose first version dates from 2017, measures 2 metres, weighs 105 kg and has a humanoid bust, two wheels as feet to offer maximum agility and an arm with a suction clamp that can easily grasp and lift boxes up to 15 kg. Its control force lets it position each of them at the desired location.
The usefulness of this robot is to be able to offer both palletization of stock keeping units, depalletization and truck unloading tasks. However, Handle is not ready to invade the warehouses tomorrow, as gains in efficiency and reduction of costs still need to be achieved.