NFI deploying Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot in $10M deal

Boston Dynamics’ Stretch robot. | Credit: Boston Dynamics

NFI, a leading third-party logistics provider (3PL), is spending $10 million to deploy Boston Dynamics‘ Stretch robot across its U.S. warehousing operations. Initially, Stretch will unload trucks and containers as a pilot program at NFI’s Savannah, GA facility in 2023. Additional deployments will take place over the next few years.

Founded in 1932, NFI is one of the oldest and largest privately-held 3PL in North America. It serves customers throughout various industries and operates more than 65 million square feet of warehouse space. NFI generates more than $3.8 billion in annual revenue, employs over 16,000 associates and owns and operates a dedicated fleet of 5,100 tractors and 13,200 trailers.

“At a time when companies need to evolve to meet consumer expectations, NFI has stepped in as the innovative logistics partner, contributing to our customers’ competitive edge,” said Sid Brown, CEO of NFI. “Our innovation portfolio emphasizes productivity and safety in NFI’s operations. With Stretch, we will enhance the movement of freight through our facilities while providing a safer environment for our employees.”

NFI said it will be using Stretch in its network of import deconsolidation centers, cross-dock and transload facilities, as well as floor-loaded inbound and outbound distribution centers. Stretch operates for more than a full shift on a single charge or up to 16 hours with a high-capacity battery option. With a powerful vacuum gripper and advanced vision system, the robot handles a variety of package types up to 50 pounds, requires no SKU number pre-programming or box size information and can autonomously recover any packages that shift or fall during the unloading process.

Stretch is the next generation of Handle, a robot Boston Dynamics introduced in 2017 that combined wheels and legs. Stretch doesn’t have legs, but it does have an omnidirectional mobile base with four independently controlled wheels.

“We designed Stretch to automate box moving, an operationally and physically challenging task across warehouses,” said Robert Playter, CEO of Boston Dynamics. “Demand for goods continues to rise, and robots like Stretch can help NFI alleviate some of the challenges associated with that surging demand. Stretch makes truck unloading a safer and more efficient task, and NFI can pass that efficiency along to its customers.”

Stretch is sold out for 2022 installations. Boston Dynamics has a number of early customers, including DHL Supply Chain, GAP, H&M, and Performance Team – A Maersk Company. The first customer announced for Stretch was DHL Supply Chain in January 2022. DHL pre-ordered $15 million worth of Stretch robots to further automate warehouses in North America. Boston Dynamics plans to deliver the robots over the next three years.

The Robot Report recently spoke to Sally Miller, DHL Supply Chain’s chief information officer for North America, about Stretch and other robots the company uses and the innovation cycle it employs to find the most effective solutions. Miller said Stretch was an attractive solution for DHL because Boston Dynamics is exploring applications beyond just trailer unloading.

Miller will be a keynote speaker at RoboBusiness, which takes place in Santa Clara on Oct 19-20, 2022. She will be discussing how DHL adopts and deploys robotics, the current state of logistics automation and how robotics companies can support logistics operations moving forward.

Hyundai Motor Group (Hyundai), which acquired Boston Dynamics in June 2021 for $880 million, recently announced the launch of the Boston Dynamics AI Institute. Hyundai and Boston Dynamics made an initial investment of more than $400 million to make fundamental advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and intelligent machines. The institute will be led by Marc Raibert, founder of Boston Dynamics. The institute will work on four technical areas: cognitive AI, athletic AI, organic hardware design and ethics and policy.

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