Contract logistics provider DHL Supply Chain will automate truck-unloading tasks in its DCs with a new family of warehouse robots from Boston Dynamics in a $15 million deal, becoming the first commercial customer for the tech firm’s “Stretch” bot.
Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics was acquired in 2020 when South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group paid $880 million for an 80% share of the company from continuing minority owner Softbank. Until now, the firm has been best known for the viral videos of its two-legged “Atlas” model and its four-legged “Spot” unit performing dance moves, gymnastic flips, and hill climbs. But Boston Dynamics has also recently developed a wheeled design intended to cruise warehouse floors and remove boxes from truck trailers.
That new Stretch model will now get a real-world trial as DHL rolls it out for a multi-year agreement that is designed to automate the unloading process in distribution centers. Boston Dynamics will deliver a fleet of Stretch robots to multiple DHL warehouses throughout North America over the next three years.
According to DHL, Stretch will tackle several box-moving tasks in the warehouse, beginning with unloading trucks at select DHL facilities. Following the first deployment, the multi-purpose mobile robot will handle additional tasks to support other parts of the warehouse workflow.
Boston Dynamics says that its Stretch model is equipped with an omni-directional mobile base, a lightweight arm, and a smart gripper that can handle a variety of box types. It also includes Boston Dynamics’ computer vision technology, which enables it to identify boxes and work autonomously through complex situations like disordered stacking configurations and recovering fallen boxes.
The deal comes just a week after another mobile warehouse robot vendor, Phantom Auto, announced that it has raised $42 million for its platform that allows human workers to remotely operate forklifts, trucks, robots, and other vehicles from thousands of miles away.
In addition to gaining the new cash, the firm also closed a deal for new investors ArcBest, a freight and logistics service provider, and NFI, a third-party logistics provider (3PL), to deploy thousands of Phantom-powered forklifts in the coming years. Additional funding came from Bessemer Venture Partners, Maniv Mobility, OurCrowd, Perot Jain, Max Blankfeld, and other previous investors.
California-based Phantom Auto says that its automation can help supply chain operators manage a critical labor shortage that is leading to unfilled driving jobs and high employee turnover, even as the pandemic continues to grind on through a third year.
“Phantom is aligned with NFI’s philosophy of ‘people-led, technology-enabled’,” Sid Brown, CEO of NFI, said in a release. “Our employees are our most important asset, and without them we would not be able to serve our customers. With the elimination of having to physically be on site, we can attract more diverse candidates that do not live within driving distance of the warehouse, live in alternative time zones, or who may not have been interested in working in a warehouse environment.”
We’re proud to announce that @DHLsupplychain will become Stretch’s first commercial customer. This multi-year agreement supports DHL’s commitment to accelerating digitalization of the end-to-end supply chain. https://t.co/2CM7H5ACnC pic.twitter.com/oOswTyQtfk— Boston Dynamics (@BostonDynamics) January 26, 2022