Boston Dynamics has just secured the first customer for its autonomous warehouse robots — and it’s one of the biggest logistics companies in the world.
The challenge: People had been buying more stuff online prior to 2020, but the pandemic accelerated the trend — in 2019, eCommerce accounted for less than 14% of all retail sales, but in 2021, it made up nearly 20%.
More online orders means more warehouses to receive, store, and distribute the goods. But retailers have had trouble staffing those facilities — the work is physically demanding, sometimes with long hours and low pay — and staffing shortages can lead to delays for customers.
More than 80% of warehouses have yet to embrace any sort of automation.
Warehouse robots: In March 2021, Boston Dynamics unveiled Stretch, a warehouse robot that is essentially one giant arm that rolls around on a pallet-sized base. The arm is equipped with a gripper that can latch onto boxes from the top or side to move them.
Stretch works autonomously using a computer vision system that allows it to identify boxes of different shapes and sizes, even when they’ve fallen or are stacked haphazardly. In a single hour, it can move up to 800 boxes weighing up to 50 pounds each.
What’s new: Boston Dynamics has now signed a $15 million deal with logistics company DHL Supply Chain to deliver a fleet of the warehouse robots.
The bots will be deployed at multiple DHL warehouses across North America over the next three years, with the first deliveries expected in the spring of 2022.
It’s not clear yet how many warehouse robots are in a “fleet,” so we don’t know exactly how much DHL is paying for each Stretch, or if DHL is buying the robots outright or leasing them.
The big picture: More than 80% of warehouses have yet to embrace any sort of automation, according to a new Research and Markets report, but the fulfillment industry is starting to look hard at robots as a solution to staffing woes.
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