Boston Dynamics robots are always impressive pieces of engineering, and often unsettlingly humanoid. They don’t usually have a specified purpose, though. The latest creation from Boston Dynamics is aimed squarely at warehouses. The redesigned Handle robot looks like a mechanical ostrich that can stack and unstack boxes. Unlike a human, Handle never gets tired or needs a break.
We first saw Handle in 2017, but at the time it was a small bipedal robot with two-wheeled feet and two human-like arms. My, how Handle has grown. The redesigned robot is taller and ditches the arms. In their place is a single grasper at the end of a long arm (the robo-ostrich’s neck). Like Boston Dynamics’ other robots, the new Handle has an oddly organic quality as it moves. The wheeled feet oscillate back and forth as it carries boxes, and the pendulous weight on the underside swings to maintain its balance.
In the video demo, Handle moves various boxes from shelves to a pallet. On the opposite side, another Handle is taking boxes off a pallet and placing them on a conveyor belt. The robot moves quickly across the floor, but it does take longer than a human might to pick up and set down the boxes.
Handle uses an on-board machine vision system to identify and move the boxes — this is not a pre-programmed demo. In the video, all the boxes are 11 pounds, but the grasper is capable of lifting up to 22 pounds. It can stack boxes on pallets that are up to 68 inches tall and 48 inches deep.
There’s no doubt a motivated human worker could do this faster, but humans don’t have the endurance of Handle. A person needs sleep, food, and breaks. They also, generally, want to be paid for their labor. As long as there’s someone around to change its batteries, Handle can work indefinitely.
As usual, Boston Dynamics doesn’t provide details about what it’s planning to do with Handle. It’s just a robot that exists, and we’ve seen a video of it. Whether or not anyone will use it in a warehouse remains to be seen. It does seem more practical than robots like SpotMini, Atlas, and others. After all, there’s not a big market for robots that can do parkour.
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