DHL Supply Chain to Invest $15M in Boston Dynamics Robots, Starting With Stretch

DHL and Boston Dynamics plan to roll out a fleet of robots, starting with Stretch, to multiple warehouses over the next few years.

Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics has designed Stretch to relieve worker strain and automate warehouse tasks.
DHL Supply Chain has been working with Boston Dynamics to develop robots including Stretch, which is designed to move boxes of varying sizes. It's also the first buyer.

While Boston Dynamics Inc. is best known for videos of its legged robots, the company has continued to pursue commercial applications. DHL Supply Chain last week announced that it is investing $15 million in robots from Boston Dynamics to further automate its North American warehouses. According to their multiyear agreement, the companies will start with Stretch, a robot designed for unloading in distribution centers.

“At DHL Supply Chain, we are committed to continuous innovation and digital transformation to optimize the end-to-end supply chain,” said Sally Miller, CIO of DHL Supply Chain North America. “Investing in warehouse automation plays an important role in increasing operational efficiency and improving service for our customers.”

DHL Supply Chain is part of Deutsche Post DHL Group, which has about 400,000 employees in more than 220 countries and territories worldwide. The Bonn, Germany-based company offers logistics services including international parcel delivery, e-commerce fulfillment, and industrial supply chain management.

DHL is also working with mobile robot providers such as Locus Robotics Corp. and autonomous truck developers like TuSimple Holdings Inc.

Stretch builds on existing robot tech

Boston Dynamics said Stretch builds on its decades of experience designing robots that can operate in unstructured or hard-to-traverse spaces such as construction sites or warehouses. The company's portfolio includes the Spot quadruped, which is available for commercial use, and the Atlas humanoid for research and development.

Stretch advances technologies first developed in the Handle mobile robot over the past four years (see video below).

“Stretch is Boston Dynamics’ newest robot, designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space,” said Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics. Hyundai Motor Group acquired the Waltham, Mass.-based company from SoftBank Group Corp. last year.

Stretch is a “flexible, easily integrated solution that can work in any warehouse to increase the flow of goods and improve associate safety by taking over physically demanding tasks,” claimed Boston Dynamics.

The mobile manipulator has a compact, omni-directional base and a custom-designed lightweight arm, as well as a suction gripper with sensing and controls to handle a variety of box types and sizes.

Stretch also includes Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology, which enables it to identify boxes without any pre-programming. The robot can autonomously work through complex situations such as disordered stacking configurations and recovery of fallen boxes, said the company.

Boston Dynamics, DHL plan to scale fleet

DHL Supply Chain and Boston Dynamics said the agreement is the culmination of their strategic collaboration over the past few years as Stretch was developed and tested. The robot was unveiled last year, and DHL is the first commercial purchaser.

“We’re excited to partner with Boston Dynamics to deploy its best-in-class robotics in our warehouses,” Miller said. “The Stretch robot addresses complex industry challenges through flexible automation, which we’ll be able to replicate and scale regionally and globally.”

The investment follows DHL Supply Chain's Accelerated Digitalization agenda, a strategy for developing and scaling new technologies. Stretch will tackle several box-moving tasks in the warehouse, beginning with truck unloading at select DHL facilities.

After the first deployment this spring, the multi-purpose mobile robot will automate other parts of the warehouse workflow, said the partners.

“We are thrilled to be working with DHL Supply Chain to deliver a fleet of robots that will further automate warehousing and improve safety,” said Playter. “We believe Stretch can make a measurable impact on DHL’s business operations, and we’re excited to see the robot in action at scale.”

Boston Dynamics said it plans deliver Stretch robots to multiple DHL warehouses throughout North America over the next three years.

Meet Stretch, a prototype of our new robot designed to automate box moving tasks in warehouses and distribution centers. Stretch’s mobile base allows it to go to where repetitive box lifting is required - unloading trucks, building pallets of boxes and order building. Stretch makes warehouse operations more efficient and safer for workers.

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Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics has designed Stretch to relieve worker strain and automate warehouse tasks.

Robot Technologies