How Boston Dynamics plans to robotize the logistics market

Boston Dynamics

With creations like ‘Big Dog’ and quadruped robot dog ‘Spot’, Boston Dynamics has already gained a strong foothold by proving its prowess in the world of Robotics . As the company readies itself to formally embrace Logistics as its choice of vertical, we look at how the company aims to roboticise the logistics market.

The era of Robotics in Logistics, long anticipated, seemed like a wild dream in the past, but is now culminating into reality in slow yet sure stages. There have been many advancements made and the pandemic has also acted as an accelerator for companies to start exploring the idea of incorporating robots into their space.

Boston Dynamics is almost on the verge of formally announcing their entry into logistics- the first real vertical that it is looking at.

The company has superseded expectations in proving itself as a force to reckon with, in the world of Robotics, after emerging to be successful in building large-scale robots with the quadrupedal Spot.

Years of experimentation has finally cultivated a strong ground for the company to launch itself, as the company’s new CEO Robert Playter shares its plans for the future.

The company had recently commercialised its versatile quadrupedal robot ‘Spot’ that is is line with its famous ‘Big Dog’. This opened doors of opportunities for the robotics giant as it allowed them to gauge how big of a demand they are offering, although they had not yet ascertained the exact verticals it would cater to.  

Mr Playter even acknowledged that the company was unsure of their target verticals and this holds true for even the customers who have made purchases of about 260 of the $75,000 robots and are now developing their own add-ons and industry-specific tools for the platform.

So far as price is concerned, Mr Playter even went ahead to say that it did not act as a deterrent for purchase.

“As an industrial tool this is actually quite affordable. But we’ve been very aggressive, spending a lot of money to try to build an affordable way to produce this, and we’re already working on ways to continue to reduce costs.”

Robotics in the context of COVID 19

The coronavirus pandemic has acted as a catalyst for companies who now look at Robotics as a trend is here to stay.

The pandemic brought in itself, a series of sweeping changes and unprecedented circumstances, and one of the prime points that it has underlined is, the disadvantage of still relying upon manual labour.

As a result of that, companies have been restlessly looking for a suitable alternative to substitute or rather, augment manual labour for which Robotics emerges as a suitable choice.

A DHL Trend Report had shared how research shows that 80% of current warehouses are manually operated with no supporting automation.
These warehouses have dealt with demands for increased
productivity and throughput by supporting existing workers with good layout design, mobile material handling equipment, and constantly improving IT.

“People are realizing that having a physical proxy for themselves, to be able to be present remotely, might be more important than we imagined before,” Playter said.

“We’ve always thought of robots as being able to go into dangerous places, but now danger has been redefined a little bit because of COVID. The pandemic is accelerating the sense of urgency and, I think, probably opening up the kinds of applications that we will explore with this technology.”

~Robert Playter, CEO, Boson Dynamics

The company has also catered to the call of humanity by building COVID-specific applications, including requests for collaboration on remote monitoring of patients, and automatic disinfection using Spot to carry aerosol spray through a facility.

Although the company is doubtful of that being a big market going forward, it went ahead with the requests out of a sense of obligation to the community and society.

Robotics in Logistics: A golden combination

E-commerce giants like Amazon have already taken to robotics in a bid to ramp up productivity and cut down labour costs.

However, for Boston Dynamics, venturing into logistics will not be the same. It is primed to enter the market with a different robot which will aid in moving boxes and other items around in a way that is very different from the practical “autonomous pallet” method.

While speaking about the future outlook, the country is brimming with exciting logistics products to be launched in the next two years.

“We’re going to have some exciting new logistics products coming out in the next two years. We have customers now doing proof of concept tests. We’ll announce something in 2021, exactly what we’re doing, and we’ll have product available in 2022.”

‘Pick’ is a more traditional, stationary item-picking system that the company already offers and they’re working on the next version of Handle, a birdlike mobile robot that can grab boxes and move them around while taking up comparatively little space — no more than a person or two standing up.

This mobility will greatly facilitate unloading of things like shipping containers, trucks and other confined or less predictable spaces.

The company also aims on shedding light on the cooperation between different robots, and in a video, Handle is also shown working with an off-the-shelf pallet robot. Playter has also underlined how they want this to be the trend going forward and are not only looking at cooperation between robots from a single creator.

“We’ll be offering software that lets robots work together,” he said. “Now, we don’t have to create them all. But ultimately it will take teams of robots to do some of these tasks, and we anticipate being able to work with a heterogeneous fleet.”

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