Boston Dynamics Shows Off Logistics Version of Handle Robot
Isaac Maw posted on March 29, 2019 |
The 2-wheeled robot is shown picking and palletizing boxes.

Boston Dynamics never fails to amaze, bewilder and sometimes frighten robotics fans across the internet whenever they release a new video on YouTube.

What’s interesting about this latest release is that it actually shows a machine purpose-built for industrial work, while previous projects have seemed to be aimed at the military and commercial sectors. The company’s 2017 acquisition by SoftBank has seemingly spurred more application-focused projects.

Handle Robot Reimagined for Logistics

As the title of the video says, this robot is based on Handle, a previously released robot featuring a self-balancing design combining legs and wheels. We first saw handle a little over two years ago, wheeling and hopping around its own YouTube video.

This logistics version of the robot has several new features compared to the 2m tall, 105kg original.

First, what looks like a four-axis arm has been added to the top of the robot, equipped with a suction cup gripper. While some pneumatic grippers (such as the OnRobot VG10) have compressors built in, eliminating the need for air lines, it isn’t clear whether this type of tool is used on Handle. The arm is also equipped with a force sensor, which is used to place each box securely against its neighbors. A vision system is also in use, which allows the robot to navigate and identify SKU codes on each bin. According to the original release for Handle, the robot’s top speed is 9 mph (4 m/s).

The boxes in the video weigh 5kg (11 lbs), but the robot can handle a payload of up to 15 kg (33 lb.) The original Handle robot was shown lifting boxes with two articulated arms on either side of the robot. With that configuration, Handle had a payload of 45 kg. The video’s description states that this logistics version of Handle works with pallets that are 1.2m deep and 1.7m tall, which gives an idea of the robot’s reach.

Another feature of this robot that differs from the original Handle is the swinging counterweight between the robot’s legs. Throughout the video, it seems to help balance the changing load as the robot moves and manipulates objects.

In addition to looking like giant mechanized ostriches, it’s unlikely that these robots will ever work in a warehouse safely alongside humans. The self-balancing wheels allow them to move somewhat unpredictably, and at high speeds. The average order picker is probably not interested in the possibility of being clocked in the head as that arm swings around.

One of the key reasons given by Boston Dynamics for the wheeled-legged design is the capability to negotiate terrain or obstacles that are impossible for wheels, while taking advantage of the efficiency of wheels on flat surfaces. On the concrete floor of a warehouse, this flexibility seems unnecessary.

When it comes to robots in the warehouse, companies like Seegrid, Fetch or Mobile Industrial Robots probably have a better handle on things (no pun intended), but it’s still interesting to see what the innovators are working on at Boston Dynamics.

All of the above as well as many other mobile platforms will be exhibiting at Promat and the colocated Automate show April 8-11th, 2019.

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