Automated Logistics is On the Horizon

Boston Dynamics new CEO, Robert Playter, has his sights set on the logistics market as the company’s first vertical. BD has proven that it has the ability to produce robots at scale as Spot, a versatile quadrupedal robot, as just recently entered into commercialization.

Automation is a goal for many companies across many industries as there is a myriad of applications.

Playter, who has only recently stepped up from his role as COO of the company, spoke publicly for the first time on the company’s behalf, “We weren’t sure exactly what the target verticals would be,” he admitted, and seemingly neither did the customers, who have collectively bought about 260 of the $75,000 [Spot] robots and are now actively building their own add-ons and industry-specific tools for the platform. And the price hasn’t been a deterrent, he said: “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.”

Automation is a goal for many companies across many industries as there is a myriad of applications. This has only been further enforced by the global pandemics as many industries are still working remotely or only now beginning to phase in their workforce.

“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.”

A Not-so-New Trend In Logistics

Boston Dynamics isn’t the first company to look towards automation for logistics. e-Commerce giant Amazon has already begun blazing the trail for robots in the warehouse as a means of boosting productivity while lowering labor costs. Boston Dynamics is ready to dive into the market with a variety of different robots.

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 have big plans in logistics,” Playter said. “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.”

BD already offers Pick, a stationary item-picking system, and they are working on a new version of Handle, a birdlike mobile robot that can grab boxes and move them around without taking up too much space, about the same as one or two standing, human workers. The added mobility of Handle would allow it to unload things like shipping containers, trucks, or other confined and less predictable spaces.

BD has released a video of Handle working with an off-the-shelf pallet robot. Playter emphasizes the need for this type of cooperation between robots in general and not just those made by a single manufacturer.

“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.”

What This Means for Logistics

Simply put, it’s an exciting time for logistics. As technology continues to advance, not only will it become more efficient, but it will also become less expensive. This means that many companies within the logistics field will be able to operate more efficiently and safely, be it during a pandemic or when working with hazardous materials.

This disruption will also facilitate a necessary skill shift for human workers. Not necessarily replacing them in the warehouse but instead shifting their focus to more value-added tasks than menial physical labor resulting in a more highly skilled and adaptive workforce.

While it will take time for these robots to hit the shelves, now is a good time to start considering how they can be implemented into your day to day operations. Questions on how technology like robotics will be changing the logistics landscape for your business? Ask an expert with the form below.