Few tech companies go viral quite like Boston Dynamics does, what with their robots that can run up stairs and open doors. This latest trick is a “reimagining” of an older robot, known as Handle. Turns out it’s great at stacking boxes.
A Handle robot is “a mobile manipulation robot designed for logistics,” Boston Dynamics says in the description of their YouTube video. “Handle autonomously performs mixed SKU [stockkeeping unit] pallet building and depalletizing after initialization and localizing against the pallets.” That’s a fancy way of saying the bot picks things up and puts them down. “The on-board vision system on Handle tracks the marked pallets for navigation and finds individual boxes for grasping and placing,” Boston Dynamics says, meaning that the robot can see the boxes before picking them up and putting them down, and keeps records of what it does.
The boxes seen in the video each contain around 11 pounds, although Boston Dynamics says the Handle bots can carry boxes up to 33 pounds. Its vision system allows the robot stack boxes 4 feet deep and up to 5.5 feet tall, which would be great for any cardboard forts built in a living room by a child. But Boston Dynamics likely has more adult aspirations for Handle.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2017, around 271,990 people worked in warehouses as laborers. Boston Dynamics certainly isn’t alone in building robots that seem ready to take their jobs—Amazon has held picking robot competitions for years. With both a counterweight and suction cups, the new robot appears able to keep its balance as move through its commands flawlessly. Of course, that’s just what Boston Dynamics wants viewers to see—the upside of releasing videos through company-owned social media channels.
Like other Boston Dynamics robots, this version of Handle isn’t ready for prime time yet—it’s still just a prototype. But as a viral star, it sure looks like a challenge to future warehouse jobs.
Originally published on Popular Mechanics