Robot maker Boston Dynamics will deploy dozens of its warehouse robots into European DCs through a deal announced today with German e-commerce retailer The Otto Group, the companies said.
Otto Group said it will continue automating its logistics operations by adding Boston Dynamics' four-legged Spot robots in more than 10 sites and its container-unloading Stretch robots in more than 20 facilities over the next two years, beginning with parcel service provider Hermes Fulfilment. According to Otto Group, the deployment supports its efforts to improve safety, increase operational efficiency, and address labor shortages for specific types of warehouse work.
Otto sells $17 billion of retail e-commerce goods in more than 20 countries annually, and is the holding company that owns several retail store chains, brands such as the home goods vendor Crate & Barrel, and the parcel service and fulfillment provider The Hermes Group.
From Waltham, Massachusetts-based Boston Dynamics’ point of view, the move marks the first time that both of its commercially available robots will be deployed together at enterprise scale. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Boston Dynamics has traditionally been best known for its dancing and parkour-running humanoid “Atlas” robot, which today serves mainly as a test bed for new technologies. The company accelerated its entry into logistics applications through its 2019 acquisition of machine vision tech firm Kinema Systems and its 2020 agreement to be acquired itself by Hyundai Motor Group. The company then launched its Stretch robot in 2022, alongside commercial deployments at DHL Supply Chain, the third party logistics provider (3PL) NFI Industries, and the ocean shipping giant Maersk. Meanwhile, its quadruped Spot model has been deployed for several years for industrial inspection applications in sectors such as oil and gas production.
In addition to generating revenue, those early adopters help the company to develop new use cases by steering the development of robotic capabilities toward additional modes, Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics, said in a press conference at the company’s offices. Additional users include Maersk, Gap, and H&M. For example, while Spot is currently used mainly for collecting repetitive data points, it could add new jobs such as inventory counting in the future, quickly expanding its repertoire just like a smartphone can easily add new apps, he said.
Applying those capabilities to warehouse tasks is important for handling big and bulky items such as furniture that traditionally requires a two-man team for each box, Kay Schiebur, member of the executive board, services, at Otto Group, said. In addition, the robots offer scalability in logistics, which helps companies cope with challenges like labor shortages and predicting sales volumes.
Otto Group plans to use the walking Spot bots to autonomously roam its facilities, patrolling set paths to support tunnel inspections and predictive maintenance activities for operations equipment, including thermal monitoring, analog gauge reading, and acoustic detection of pressurized air and gas leaks. The Spot fleet will also collect data for machine learning models to support tasks like fire exit egress monitoring and will detect slight changes in storage racks to improve safety in Otto Group’s warehouses.
The company will also use the box-moving Stretch robot to begin unloading containers at 10 facilities next year, with the goal of having all sites operational by the end of 2025. Stretch uses a robotic arm outfitted with vacuum cup grippers to unload heavy packages in physically demanding spaces, transferring stacked packages from truck beds or sea freight containers onto waiting conveyors.