Boston Robotics delivers plan for logistics robots as early as next year – TechCrunch
Boston Dynamics is only a few months away from announcing her approach to logistics, the first real industry she plans to enter after demonstrating her ability to build robots at scale using the four-legged spot. The company’s new CEO, Robert Playter, sees the company come into its own after decades of experimentation.
Playter, interviewed on the main virtual stage of Disrupt 2020, only recently rose to this role after long years of work from the COO after longtime CEO and founder Marc Raibert stepped aside to focus on research and development. This is his player’s first public engagement since he took on the new responsibility, and it is clear that he has big plans for Boston Robotics.
The recent commercialization of Spot, the versatile four-legged friend who is a distant descendant of the famous Big Dog, has shown Playter and the company that what they sell is in great demand, even if they’re not entirely sure where it is There is demand.
“We weren’t sure what exactly the target industries would be,” he admitted, and neither, apparently, were the customers who collectively bought about 260 of the $ 75,000 robots and are now actively developing their own add-ons and industry-specific tools for the platform. And the price didn’t put me off, he said: “As an industrial tool, this is actually quite affordable. But we’ve been very aggressive and spent a lot of money trying to find an affordable way to produce this, and we’re already working on ways to keep the cost down. “
The global pandemic has also helped create a sense of urgency from robots as an alternative or reinforcement of manual labor.
“People are realizing that having a physical proxy to themselves to be able to be present remotely may be more important than we previously imagined,” said Playter. “We always thought that robots could get into dangerous places, but now the danger due to COVID has been redefined a little. The pandemic is accelerating the sense of urgency and, in my opinion, likely opening up the types of applications that we will be exploring with this technology. “
Among the applications specific to COVID, the company has made requests to collaborate on remote patient monitoring and automatic disinfection using Spot to transport aerosol spray through a facility. “I don’t know if this will be a big market in the future, but we felt it was important to react at this point,” he said. “Partly out of an obligation to the community and society that we are doing the right thing here.”
One of the earliest uses for successful scaling was of course logistics, where companies like Amazon used robotics as a means of increasing productivity and reducing labor costs. Boston Dynamics is ready to jump into the market with a completely different robot – or rather robot – that is supposed to help move boxes and other box-like objects in a completely different way than the currently practical method of the “autonomous pallet”.
“We have big plans in logistics,” said Playter. “There will be some exciting new logistics products coming out in the next two years. We have customers who are now doing proof of concept testing. We’re going to announce something in 2021, exactly what we’re doing, and we’ll have a product available in 2022. “
The company already offers Pick, a more traditional stationary order picking system, and is working on the next version of Handle, a bird-like mobile robot that can grab and move boxes while taking up comparatively little space – no more than one or two people standing up . This mobility makes it possible to unload things like shipping containers, trucks and other tight or less predictable spaces.
In a video shown during the interview (which you can watch above), Handle is also shown working with an off-the-shelf pallet robot, and Playter stressed the need for this type of cooperation, and not just between robots from a single one Creator.
“We will offer software that robots can work with,” he said. “Now we don’t have to create all of them. Ultimately, however, robotic teams will be required to complete some of these tasks, and we expect we can work with a heterogeneous fleet. “
This friendlier, gentler, more industry-friendly Boston Dynamics is almost certainly a product of Nudging from Softbank, which the company acquired in 2018, but also the simple reality that you’re not running a world-leading robotics research and development outfit for free can. However, Playter was keen for the Japanese tech giant to understand that “we are only in the position we are now because of the previous work we have done over the past two decades to develop these advanced skills so we have to keep it up. “
One thing you probably won’t see soon is Atlas, the company’s amazingly agile humanoid robot. It’s just not practical for anything yet, but acts as a kind of prestige project that forces the company to constantly raise its goals.
“It is such a complex robot and it can do so much that we are forced to develop tools that we would otherwise not have. And people love it – it’s ambitious, it attracts talent, ”said Playter.
And he himself is no exception. As a gymnast, he recalled a “nostalgic moment” watching Atlas frolic. “Many of the company’s employees, including Marc, are inspired by the achievements of humans and animals,” said Playter. “This DNA is deeply anchored in our company.”