Boston Dynamics Inc. yesterday announced that it has signed a $10 million agreement with supply chain company NFI as part of a pilot program to see if Stretch is a right fit for the Camden, N.J.-based company.
The case-handling mobile robot will initially be used to unload trucks and containers in 2023 at NFI’s warehouse in Savannah, Ga. If all goes well, NFI said it will start placing Stretch machines throughout its North American facilities over the next few years.
Boston Dynamics first unveiled Stretch back in March 2021, noting that it was its first robot specifically designed for warehouse use. It became commercially available a year later. The Waltham, Mass.-based company said demand for the robot has been so high that it has already sold out of supply for 2022, and it is now accepting reservations for 2023 and 2024 deliveries.
NFI tests robot before network deployment
NFI owns and operates more than 65 million sq. ft. of warehouse space throughout North America and generates more than $3.8 billion in annual revenue. The 90-year-old company said it is investing in Stretch as part of its “Applied Innovation focus.” It added it regularly tests out new technology in specific locations before deciding to integrate it throughout North America.
“At a time when companies need to evolve to meet consumer expectations, NFI has stepped in as the innovative logistics partner, contributing to our customers’ competitive edge,” said Sid Brown, CEO of NFI in statement. “Our innovation portfolio emphasizes productivity and safety in NFI’s operations. With Stretch, we will enhance the movement of freight through our facilities while providing a safer environment for our employees.”
The company said it envisions Stretch becoming an “invaluable asset” at its import de-consolidation centers, cross-dock and transload facilities, and floor-loaded inbound and outbound distribution centers. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, NFI said throughput demands have increased at every stage of its supply chain process.
Boston Dynamics expands Stretch rollouts
Stretch features a seven-degree robot arm, an adaptive vacuum gripper, and a high-capacity battery that Boston Dynamics said can last up to 16 hours on a single charge. The robot can carry a variety of packages up to 50 lb. (22.6 kg.).
As part of its vision system, the robot does not require SKU number pre-programing or box size information. It is also smart enough to be able to readjust and pick up any boxes that shift or fall while being unloaded, according to Boston Dynamics.
“We designed Stretch to automate box moving, an operationally and physically challenging task across warehouses,” Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics, said in a statement. “Demand for goods continues to rise, and robots like Stretch can help NFI alleviate some of the challenges associated with that surging demand. Stretch makes truck unloading a safer and more efficient task, and NFI can pass that efficiency along to its customers.”
It’s no secret that trailer and container unloading is a demanding task that can take a lot out of warehouse workers. In an interview with Robotics 24/7 earlier this month, Playter said Boston Dynamics designed Stretch to be able to be moved around a facility and to manipulate and carry various types of packages.
He noted that the company is still in the early stages of deployment and that it plans to expand its warehouse capabilities soon.
“At this stage, we’re just beginning to deploy production robots with early-adopter customers like DHL Supply Chain, Gap, H&M, and Performance Team – A Maersk Company,” said Playter. “We’ll continue working closely with those customers over the next several months to collect feedback and make minor improvements as we ramp up our manufacturing and service operation to meet broader market demand.”
About the Author
Cesareo Contreras is associate editor at Robotics 24/7. Prior to working at Peerless Media, he was an award-winning reporter at the Metrowest Daily News and Milford Daily News in Massachusetts. Contreras is a graduate of Framingham State University and has a keen interest in the human side of emerging technologies.
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