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Artificial intelligence

Watching Boston Dynamics’ new robot stack boxes is weirdly mesmerizing

March 29, 2019

The video shows two robots moving cardboard boxes from a pallet onto a conveyor belt.

Background: Boston Dynamics’ videos have ranged from the unsettling to the silly, with robots completing tasks as diverse as jumping up steps, opening doors, or dancing to “Uptown Funk.” This latest, slightly more dull yet weirdly mesmerizing, video is all about showing off the potential for its robotics to be used in a real-life situation. The robots are an updated version of the company’s “Handle” bot, first unveiled in 2017.

About “Handle”: It’s a “mobile manipulation robot” designed for the logistics sector. It can autonomously stack and unstack boxes onto and off pallets, and shift them onto conveyor belts. It uses an onboard vision system to track which objects go where, and to judge how to grasp and place each box. It uses a robotic technique called “force control” to nestle each box up against its neighbors. It can handle (excuse the pun) weights of up to 15 kilograms (33 pounds.)

A caveat: Although the technology is impressive, we’re still a long way from it being deployed in an actual warehouse, especially around humans. That would involve a level of complexity that robots haven’t yet mastered. And while the Boston Dynamics videos are always fun, they’re not quite as effortless as they seem. Each one is created with carefully pre-programmed movements and will take many, many takes to get right before it’s shared.

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