When you think of the robotics company Boston Dynamics, chances are that your mind goes to robots like Atlas, its backflipping, parkour-performing humanoid creation, or its the canine-inspired Spot and Spot Mini. But the Boston-based firm has another robot that’s slightly less well known, but arguably a whole lot more practical.
Its name is Handle and it’s a bipedal-wheeled robot which combines both wheels and legs for what Boston Dynamics describes as the “best of both worlds.” In a new video, viewers can get a better idea of what Handle is capable of as it plies its trade inside a warehouse.
The video depicts the handy, ostrich-looking bots whizzing around maneuvering boxes using a head-mounted suction-cup gripper. According to Boston Dynamics, Handle does this autonomously using its onboard vision system, including tracking the marked pallets for navigation and seeking out the individual boxes for grasping and placing. When it places a box onto a pallet, it utilizes force control to make sure that each box is nestled up against its neighbors as tightly as possible. The boxes shown in the video weigh around 12 pounds, but the company says that Handle is designed to be able to manage boxes weighing more than twice that.
“Handle is a robot that combines the rough-terrain capability of legs with the efficiency of wheels,” Boston Dynamics writes on its website, describing the robot. “It uses many of the same principles for dynamics, balance, and mobile manipulation found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex … Handle can pick up heavy loads while occupying a small footprint, allowing it to maneuver in tight spaces. All of [its] joints are coordinated to deliver high-performance mobile manipulation.”
Compared with some of the showier Boston Dynamics videos out there, a video depicting one of its less well-known creations moving boxes about probably won’t capture people’s imagination in quite the same way. However, for anyone wondering what the future of warehouse operation is likely to look like, this offers a far more practical glimpse of the years to come than, say, a dancing dog robot.
As Boston Dynamics moves toward commercializing its creations for the first time, this could turn out to be a lot closer than you might think.