Video: Boston Dynamics "Handle" Robot Shows Off Improved Warehouse Skills

The Boston DynamicsHandle” has received a complete makeover, making the wheely bot look less humanoid and more like a flightless bird, let’s call it an ostrich that can lift boxes. Handle has gone from a “nightmare-inducing” bipedal machine that jumps and grabs objects with its T-rex arms to fine-tuned robot worker capable of box-stacking like a present-day warehouse workers.

If Boston Dynamics can mass-produce these robots, bring down costs, and ensure they have A.I. that makes them function semi-independently, Handle could very replace the factory worker we think of today, sooner than we might guess.

The Softbank-owned robotics company released a new YouTube video Thursday showing Handle’s new suction-cup beak it uses to pick up and precisely place packages down on pallets and conveyor belts.

It has kept its hydraulic, wheeled legs that bend backwards — like those of herons — that originally allowed it to move around at a top speed of 9mph and squad down to handle parcels.

Its Segway-like auto-balancing system has been moved to its rear-end making it bottom heavy, a lot like an emu.

Boston Dynamics has now taken Handle’s concept and refined it for logistics. Its initial depth perception cameras have been upgraded to read labeled pallets to keep track of stock in a warehouse, an upgrade that could one day allow the bots to be used commercial in an Amazon shipping facility, for example.

boston dynamics handle robot
Handle using its suction-cup head to rearrange boxes in a warehouse.

“Handle autonomously performs mixed SKU [stock keeping unit] pallet building and depalletizing after initialization and localizing against the pallets,” stated the video’s description. “The on-board vision system on Handle tracks the marked pallets for navigation and finds individual boxes for grasping and placing.”

The new Handle was built to lift up to 33 pounds (15 kg), making it ideal of handling lightweight mail orders as opposed to industrial steel beams. All of the boxes seen in the video weight about 11 lbs (5 kg). But Handle wasn’t only upgraded to reshuffle items, they’re organizational wizzes as well.

When Handle places a boxes onto a pallet, it uses force control to nestle each box up against its neighbors. It uses “force control” to perfectly nestle each box next to other, like a game of Tetris.

Handle's first form.

Force control allows for precise actions that can be continuously replicated regardless of whether packages shift or fall. Every time handle places a package it measures the force it applies to set it down and not just its position. This means even if a pallet or box moves slightly it will still set down boxes firmly and neatly.

Robots like Handle are in great demand because more than more than 50 percent of businesses are aiming to begin using SKUs over the next five years, according to March report by Mordor Intelligence. These kinds of pallets allow large shipping companies, like Amazon, to quickly and accurately weight orders to determine the cost of shipping, categorize items, and funnel all of that data to machines.

Amazon already uses a fleet of its own robots. But Boston Dynamic’s emu-bot, Handle could soon be placing your next order of paper towels on a pallet to be shipped.