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DHL becomes first to install Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot to unload trucks

DHL Supply Chain, the world’s biggest logistics company and part of Deutsche Post DHL Group, has become the first company to install Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot developed for carton unloading of trucks.

The successful deployment of the robot comes just one year after DHL Supply Chain announced its $15 million investment in robotics solutions from Boston Dynamics.

In the application, Stretch robots take packages from the back of trailers and place them on a flexible conveyor.

Unloading boxes is a strenuous, physically demanding work process which can impact an associate’s ability to work efficiently.

By automating this process, DHL Supply Chain not only addresses safety concerns but also the ongoing labor supply challenge by redirecting skilled labor to focus on value-add, strategic tasks in other areas of the warehouse.

The speed at which Stretch can unload cases varies by product; however, in all tested environments the case unload speed exceeded the manual approach, driving significant advantages in efficiency and productivity.

Sally Miller, CIO, DHL Supply Chain North America, says: “Through our accelerated digitization strategy, we continue to innovate and find creative solutions for today’s supply chain challenges.

“As experts in logistics and supply chain we offer our technology partners, such as Boston Dynamics, invaluable knowledge of our processes that is key to developing robots that can efficiently work in warehouse environments.

“The successful deployment of Stretch is not just a win for DHL but is also marked progress for the wider industry who will no doubt benefit from this technology as well.

“We are also excited to be able to offer yet another solution to our customers that allows for flexibility in scaling up or down as operational needs change.”

The custom-designed, lightweight arm of the robot has seven degrees-of-freedom, which gives it the length and flexibility to reach cases throughout the trailer or container.

Advanced sensing and controls enable it to handle a variety of package types and sizes while maximizing pick rates. Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology enables the robot to identify boxes easily and without any pre-programming.

Stretch is capable of working autonomously through complex situations like mixed stacking configurations and recovering fallen boxes.

Kevin Blankespoor, senior vice president and general manager of warehouse robotics at Boston Dynamics, says: “The DHL Supply Chain team has been instrumental in helping us understand the complex demands of the supply chain environment.

“They provided valuable feedback and insights throughout our development and testing process, and thanks to that close collaboration, Stretch is now deployed and beginning to increase inbound throughput.”

The insight and experience gained from this ongoing strategic collaboration will be used to deploy additional innovative robotic technologies in the future.

DHL Supply Chain plans to continue working with Boston Dynamics to enhance Stretch’s key performance and consistency metrics, aiming to decrease the number of human interventions required while improving the robot’s automated recovery process for fallen boxes.

The companies are also looking to gradually scale the robot for additional tasks, tapping into the encouraging potential of mobile robots in the warehouse.

DHL Supply Chain plans to deploy Stretch robots across multiple warehouse operations in the coming year.

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