Boston Dynamics has a new YouTube video showing off its newest robot design. This one is a reimagining of the “Handle” robot that the company originally showed off in 2017. Back then the robot could jump four feet in the air and do all kinds of tricks; now its purpose is to load pallets.
Back in 2017 Handle was the company’s first public “wheel-legged” robot—that is, the robot is a bipedal design that stands on two legs, but instead of feet at the bottom, the design opts for a set of wheels. Boston Dynamics described the design decision on its website, saying “Wheels are fast and efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs, Handle has the best of both worlds.” Wheel legs allowed the original Handle design to have a roughly human form factor (albeit with backward knees) and a top speed of 9 MPH, just by rolling its wheel feet.
The new Handle is no longer humanoid. While it still has wheel-legs with backward-bending knees, it’s now more bird-like than human. The two arms have been replaced with a single arm mounted at the top of the bot, making it look like a long neck. The original Handle’s top-heavy design has been changed, and now a lot of the robot’s mass lives in a large, wildly swinging rear (butt? tail?) that acts a counterweight as the robot lifts things and moves around.
On top of the neck-arm are what look to be some visual sensors and a grid of vacuum suction cups that allow the robot to pick up boxes weighing up to 33 pounds and arrange them on pallets. In the video above, two Handle bots move around completely untethered, picking up boxes from a shelf, neatly stacking them into a pallet, and unloading them onto a conveyor belt. The YouTube description notes this is all done autonomously, and, if you label everything with matrix barcodes (the QR code-looking paper labels in the video), the robots can even mix SKUs and fulfill orders.
Of course, Handle has that trademark Boston Dynamics creep-factor, looking vaguely alive and animal-like. With the backwards knees, long neck, and tail-like rear end, Handle looks a bit like a mechanical ostrich, or a high-tech drinking bird toy.
There’s surprisingly little flair in this video—nobody kicks the bird-bot, nor does it do any tricks. It’s just a normal robo-bird day in the shipping center. As usual for Boston Dynamics, these robots seems leagues more capable and advanced than anything else out there, but is there ever a plan to make money doing this? Handle is certainly the most useful looking, job-oriented robot the company has ever produced.