Apollo humanoid robot in tests by Apptronik and GXO for warehouse use

Apollo developer Apptronik is working with third-party logistics provider GXO on a proof of concept. Source: GXO Logistics

Over the past year, humanoid robots have moved from science fiction to early commercial trials. GXO Logistics Inc. today announced that it is conducting an early-stage proof-of-concept program with robot manufacturer Apptronik Inc. GXO said it has partnered with developers to help shape their humanoid prototypes to satisfy the logistics industry’s needs.

“We’re excited to partner with Apptronik to develop their AI-enabled humanoid robot,” stated Adrian Stoch, chief automation officer at GXO Logistics. “Apollo has great potential to add value throughout the distribution center, including the most labor-intensive operational processes.”

“These kinds of robotics reduce repetitive work and improve safety while freeing associates to focus on higher-value-added activities,” he added. “As we progress on our R&D journey with Apptronik, we’ll also be evaluating its capability for other critical use cases along the way.”

Greenwhich, Conn.-based GXO Logistics claimed that it is “the world’s largest pure-play contract logistics provider,” benefitting from the rapid growth of e-commerce, automation, and outsourcing. The company has more than 130,000 team members across more than 970 facilities totaling approximately 200 million sq. ft.

Stoch participated in a panel on the state of warehouse automation at last month’s Robotics Summit & Expo.

Apptronik designs Apollo to collaborate with humans

Spun out of the Human Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016, Apptronik has built Apollo to work alongside people. It is the culmination of the design and development of more than 10 general-purpose robots, including extensive work on NASA’s Valkyrie.

Apollo is 5 ft. 8 in. (172.7 cm.) tall, can carry 55 lb. (24.9 kg), and uses swappable batteries for extended runtimes, according to Apptronik. The Austin-based company said its system uses linear actuators that mimic the mechanics of human muscles and provide a full range of mobility.

In March, Apptronik said it is integrating Apollo with NVIDIA Corp.‘s foundation model for robot learning as part of Project GR00T. It also announced that automaker Mercedes-Benz is testing the humanoid robot.

Apollo’s force-control architecture and flexible safety-zone perimeter allow it to work safely around and directly with people, said Apptronik and GXO. The companies said they are jointly evaluating the robot‘s performance in a laboratory setting to fine-tune Apptronik’s AI model before deploying the technology to a GXO distribution center somewhere in the U.S.  

“Our mission is to build versatile robots that can do work in real-world applications – from large, powerful movements like transporting boxes and totes to small, precise ones like picking individual items or scanning barcodes,” said Jeff Cardenas, co-founder and CEO of Apptronik, who spoke at last year’s Robotics Summit & Expo, among other events.

“That’s why we’re committed to helping technology leader GXO optimize its logistics operations and create an even safer, more engaging workplace for its employees with the help of Apollo,” Cardenas said. “The two phases of this R&D program represent essential steps toward the launch of an innovative scalable automation solution for GXO.”

GXO tests multiple humanoid robots

GXO Logistics had been testing the Digit humanoid from Agility Robotics, which won the RBR50 Robot of the Year Award. While humanoids have been a popular topic of discussion at the past year’s conferences and trade shows, Digit and Apollo are among the very few to progress to commercial testing.

Last year, GXO said it has increased its total units of warehouse automation by about 50% year over year. It also trialed a wide range of new hardware and software, including AI-powered robotics and autonomous vehicles.

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