DHL Supply Chain has invested $15m in warehouse automation technology supplied by engineering and robotics provider Boston Dynamics.

Boston Dynamics Stretch robot

Boston Dynamics Stretch robot

DHL will be using the technology to automate its warehouses in North America, beginning with the deployment of Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot, which is designed to automate the unloading process at distribution centres. The multi-purpose mobile robot will be introduced to warehouses across North America over the next three years, initially tackling the unloading of boxes from trucks at select DHL facilities. Following that, it will take on additional tasks to support other parts of the warehouse workflow, which the company said will effectively automate warehouse operations. 

The Stretch robot is equipped with an omnidirectional mobile base, custom-designed lightweight arm and a smart gripper with advanced sensing and controls that can handle a large variety of box types and sizes, according to Boston Dynamics. It also features computer vision technology, enabling it to easily identify boxes without pre-programming. 

It is the first commercial purchase of the Stretch robot and marks the culmination of a strategic collaboration between the two companies over the past few years as Stretch was being developed and tested. 

The investment is part of DHL Supply Chain’s Accelerated Digitalisation strategy, aimed at developing and scaling new technologies. 

“Investing in warehouse automation plays an important role in increasing operational efficiency and improving service for our customers,” said Sally Miller, chief information officer at DHL Supply Chain North America. “We’re excited to partner with Boston Dynamics to deploy its best-in-class robotics in our warehouses. The Stretch robot addresses complex industry challenges through flexible automation, which we’ll be able to replicate and scale regionally and globally.” 

Robert Playter, Boston Dynamics’ CEO, said: “Stretch is Boston Dynamics’ newest robot, designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space. We are thrilled to be working with DHL Supply Chain to deliver a fleet of robots that will further automate warehousing and improve safety for its associates. We believe Stretch can make a measurable impact on DHL’s business operations, and we’re excited to see the robot in action at scale.”

Last year, the logistics arm of Hyundai Motor – Hyundai Glovis – bought an 80% controlling interest in Boston Dynamics from Softbank in a deal valuing the robotics provider at $1.1 billion.