DHL puts Boston Dynamics robot into commercial service

DHL becomes first commercial user of the Stretch robot to unload packages

Credit: DHL Supply Chain, 2023

Boston Dynamics, most famous for its acrobatic humanoid robots, has taken another step into the logistics space with an altogether more industrial robot. DHL Supply Chain is now using the company’s Stretch robot to unload cartons and packages from trucks onto a conveyor belt at one of its facilities.

Stretch was developed through a four-year strategic collaboration between the two companies, which included a $15 million investment by DHL last year, and the deployment marks the first commercial application of the system.

The Stretch robot is being used to remove packages up to 22.68kg in weight from trailers and containers using a lightweight arm with seven degrees-of-freedom attached to a mobile base. It then places these on a flexible conveyor belt that leads into the warehouse.

DHL Supply Chain claims that thus far in all tests it has conducted with the robot it performs better than human labour at the task, being able to handle goods faster and in different sizes and weights through vision technology that has been sufficiently trained to perform picking without pre-programming.

However, it is yet to be completely autonomous as they noted that they aim “to decrease the number of human interventions required, while improving the robot’s automated recovery process for fallen boxes” across this year, as well as how consistently it performs.

DHL Supply Chain said in a release that they plan to deploy the system across multiple warehouses in 2023 and to deploy additional robotic technologies in the future.

“The DHL Supply Chain team has been instrumental in helping us understand the complex demands of the supply chain environment,” said Kevin Blankespoor, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Warehouse Robotics at Boston Dynamics. “They provided valuable feedback and insights throughout our development and testing process, and thanks to that close collaboration, Stretch is now deployed and beginning to increase inbound throughput.”

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