back to article Boston Dynamics' latest robot is a warehouse workhorse

Robotics company Boston Dynamics is making one of its latest robots more generally commercially available: a mobile, autonomous arm called Stretch. Stretch is outfitted with a vacuum gripping arm able to move a wide variety of box types and sizes, up to 50 pounds (≈22.7kg). Its footprint is about that of a warehouse pallet, …

  1. IGotOut Silver badge

    Love the bullshit

    "... take the heavy lifting off of human employees, which Boston Dynamics said was a goal, along with improving warehouse safety. "

    ".... REPLACE human employees, which Boston Dynamics said was a goal...."

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Love the bullshit

      Human employees don't belong in a warehouse, we've known that for years. They take up too much space, they're too slow, they're fragile, they make mistakes and they need the warehouse to be lit and kept at a reasonable temperature.

      The problem's not the warehouse, its the idea that unnecessary humans should be just left to fend for themselves (i.e. they're only useful if you can turn a profit from using them). They're actually people, just like the rest of us, so the idea that they need to be worked into an early grave at soul destroying jobs to maintain their 'human dignity' is just an expression of just how dystopian our society has become.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Love the bullshit

        "the idea that they need to be worked into an early grave at soul destroying jobs to maintain their 'human dignity'"

        While I agree that warehouse jobs can be inhuman, what is the alternative? People have to work somewhere, to earn at least some money, and the options aren't always pretty. It's clear those jobless warehouse workers won't be headed towards more fulfilling jobs, their future is more in a nice cozy cardboard box on some wind-sheltered sidewalk out of view...

        The employment problem is a huge and complex problem, and it's too easy to pontificate when you have a good job, a good education and a solid personal network.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Love the bullshit

          >While I agree that warehouse jobs can be inhuman, what is the alternative?

          So we banning back-hoes and dump trucks as well?

      2. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: Love the bullshit

        Agreed that warehouse work can be dangerous and unpleasant. however, if unqualified jobs disappear, then we'll have to put in place universal income to enable unqualified people to live. Anybody can't be an IT engineer. To finance that income, let's tax the robots that replace the people. Let's the value they create go back to the people they replace instead of filling the pockets of shareholders.

    2. msobkow Silver badge

      Re: Love the bullshit

      In a better world, the time we're freeing up for people could be put to good use for education, raising families, retraining, a little vacation time, and a relaxed return to the work force when a good opportunity comes along. Some people actually are confident enough in their connections and skills that they can afford to relax for the first couple or few months of unemployment insurance after losing their job in Canada.

      The problem is our society doesn't allow that, because the people who regularly lose their jobs are the ones who make so little they never have any savings to be able to afford to enjoy some down time. Pretty much from high school on, you're expected to work, even if the only "job" you could find was soul-destroying manual labour for a bean-counting manager hovering over you. i.e. A place like Amazon.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Love the bullshit

        Until the likes of Amazon start paying their taxes, who is going to fund all these out-of-work ex-warehouse people while they lie on the beach waiting for a new job to come along :-)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: fund all these out-of-work ex-warehouse people

          If anyone thinks that Bezos, a member not only of the 0,.01% but the 0.001% of Americans cares a hoot about former Amazon employees then they need to have their brain examined (provided that they have the requisite health insurance)

          Stop using Amazon. You know it makes sense.

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Love the bullshit

        Automation in general is expected to eliminate 12 million jobs in Europe by 2040.

        Which is going to make 12 million people rather unhappy, unless other work can be found for them, or, rather better in my humble view, economic changes come along that don't require people to work at shit jobs in the first place.

        Not that I have any idea what those changes might be... but I am completely unconvinced by the commonly voiced theory that 'people need to work' and I can't help feeling there is room for improvement.

        1. oiseau Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: Love the bullshit

          Which is going to make 12 million people rather unhappy ...

          Well ...

          Those 12 million people will not be rather unhappy.

          They will be very unhappy because, without work to make a living from, they will quickly become unable to put a meal on the table for their families, send their children to school or afford basic medical care.

          It's not just 12 milion people.

          It's 12 million + those who depend on them.

          O.

          1. martinusher Silver badge

            Re: Love the bullshit

            >They will be very unhappy because, without work to make a living from

            Based on current practice a percentage of the 12 million will be employed in a weaponized bureaucracy keeping the rest on their toes -- sending out their quota of fruitless job applications and making sure they don't earn anything on the side (for example). Neither group will actually earn enough to have a place to live, enough to eat and workable health care (another haven for bureaucrats) -- assuming this is the US -- but they'll be so busy arguing among themselves that they will just assume that's life.

            Oh, yes --- we'll toss in a few self-financed lotteries as well. (Not really needed in the UK, you're awash with storefront betting and other ways to lose all your money to the dream.)

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Love the bullshit

          Well, past performance would suggest that warehouse employees would stlll be there but they would be managing and repairing the bots. Just like accountants who would otherwise add up numbers all day become analysts and/or programmers.

          So, if the robots take over the menial jobs, there will still be other jobs for humans to do. As companies are more efficient, they can hire people to be EVEN MORE efficient. The work gets more interesting, requires more creativity and intelligence, and so on. At least, that';s how past performance has been in industries where people are "replaced" by computers and/or robots. The people (generally) end up getting better and/or better paying jobs doing those things that still need doing (but cannot be done by a 'clank'). And don't forget jobs 'making more robots'.

          1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

            Re: Love the bullshit

            This all assumes one thing

            That the people displaced by said robot are capable of doing the more 'interesting' work.

            Lets face it, I work in a place where we have robotic cells bashing away, we also have several operators whose job it is tender to the machines, also sweep the floor etc etc.

            4 of them are not 'smart', give them a job sheet with a checklist and they're away. hand them a simple engineering drawing and ask them to get creative will result in blank stares no matter how much training you try and ram into them.

            Thats the real issue, when you get rid of the unskilled , what do you do with those people?

            PS we found the employment records for the place dating back years.... before the rise of the robots , the company had 10 skilled people and about 40 unskilled.

            We still have 12 skilled now and 10 unskilled.. yet produce more

        3. Peter-Waterman1

          Re: Love the bullshit

          Technology changes often bring about loss of jobs, and history shows us those who adapt to change do well, and those who don’t, don’t. Great example is the ferry industry on the Thames in London. There were big protests against building bridges across the river as it was going to put boat drivers out of job, boat builders out of jobs, people who used to teach navigation and do the tests. But of course, their efforts were futile and there was no stopping bridges being built.

      3. Dimmer

        Re: Love the bullshit

        If you look at the current tax rate we are paying from our wages, property, permits, vat or sales tax we are well north of 50%. When you buy a product, you are also paying for all the accumulated taxes in the supply chain. If we could get value for our “voluntary” taxes it would not be so bad.

        The minimum wage person doesn’t have a chance. The ones with cash or fixed income are losing it via inflation. When people figure out why the have to choose between food or transportation to their job, something will break.

        Some of the smartest people (and bots) are here viewing the reg so I am hoping for suggestions.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Love the bullshit

          Let them trade NFTs.

          Marie Antoinette

        2. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Love the bullshit

          @Dimmer

          "hoping for suggestions."

          A few of us have been warning for a while. Like you say we can only go so far before something breaks, its broke. The green push made us heavily reliant on gas for electricity as well as heating appliances. We produce less electricity for much higher costs to make some people feel better at huge expense, as warned back when the gov offered the winter fuel allowance.

          Covid panic printed vast amounts of money while shutting down the economy. So more money chasing less production. First this is causing inflation while the economy has a hard climb to recover.

          We had 2 expensive wars and joined in blowing up other places while government gets bigger, spends more and takes money and resources from the economy. Tax's are rising to pay for the insanity but the problems are not being solved.

          The minimum wage keeps rising but a job is only as worth doing as it makes money. Burger flippers worked hard to reduce their numbers and be replaced with increasing automation through demands for higher wages, Just wait for automated shipping/trucking.

          This is gonna hurt and there is little we can do about it in the short term. This is what has been warned against. Now we can either undo the stupidity and put things on the right path or we can keep screwing up and cry things are bad.

          1. msobkow Silver badge

            Re: Love the bullshit

            Dealing with the issue of climate change is not about "making some people feel good." It is about survival as we know it.

            1. codejunky Silver badge

              Re: Love the bullshit

              @msobkow

              "It is about survival as we know it."

              I am sure some people believe that. But even those who do surely cant be fooled into thinking the stupid decisions over energy generation was clever? At no point does it seem aligned with the goal of survival.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Love the bullshit

        "the time we're freeing up for people could be put to good use"

        Come on, that was the silly old utopia of a society so technically advanced that people didn't need to work anymore. Except, if they don't work anymore, they can't afford the goodies of this technically advanced society. Any of them.

        The society of leisure is a barefaced lie. It ignores there will always be a bill to pay, because all those robots and automated factories which "work for you" aren't free, and how do you pay for them if you don't earn any money? Well, the answer is, only some people will be able to afford them while the others starve: While in the olden times you only needed some land and your arms to grow crops and keep yourself and your family more or less fed, nowadays you don't have this option anymore: Either you pay for your food with money, or you starve.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Love the bullshit

      When computers replaced rooms full of low level accountants slaving away 8 hours a day with adding machines at banks (with job titles like 'calculator') I'm sure there was a bit of an adjustment period... since they were all "replaced" with a "robot".

      Now, does anybody want to go back to that?

      Same thing with warehousing. I think people need to be more creative and fit better into jobs where they CAN be. (And those jobs tend to pay more)

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Love the bullshit

        "When computers replaced rooms full of low level accountants slaving away 8 hours a day with adding machines at banks"

        I was watching a presentation on LFTR nuclear power plants and an anti-nuke activist claimed that nuclear power plants don't create enough new jobs. WTF? Thousands of people on stationary bikes connected to generators would create loads of new jobs, but wouldn't create any wealth.

        I'd have to see some use cases for this robot. Most generic automation isn't more valuable than re-thinking the process as a whole and putting in specialized equipment in places where it's appropriate. I don't see how it would have helped my business when I had a manufacturing company.

        The Ford factory to produce Model T's wasn't a very good assembly line as it was too specialized. Nobody was thinking about a wholly new model of vehicle being built on the same line. When you look at auto plants now, the machinery is somewhat specialized, a spot welder on an arm for example, but generic enough that it will work in many different situations. Some plants do have different cars or variations being built on the same line sequentially.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Love the bullshit

        Loads of jobs have been automated out of existence, it's a continual process and it has no end.

        It just shifts the work elsewhere.

        For instance, all those big old rooms full of rows of typists called "typing pools" have vanished since the 1980s, replaced by computers. Where did all those skilled shorthand and audio high accuracy high WPM jobs go? That's just one example, it's not just call centres supplying those positions.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Love the bullshit

          "Where did all those skilled shorthand and audio high accuracy high WPM jobs go?"

          Serving lattes, delivering stuff and walking dogs?

          New jobs were created, but mostly in the "Services" sector. Back then you didn't have anybody packing hamburgers, did you. You had a cooks and waiters, that's all.

          IT might be about the only really new sector created since, but then what percentage of the population works in IT? 1%? Certainly not much more.

  2. toby mills

    Am I the only one who read it as

    Robot Player, CEO of Boston Dynamics

    1. skeptical i

      Re: Am I the only one who read it as

      No, but I did somehow manage to read "Customers ... will have to wait for the 2023 and 2024 delivery cycles" as customers will have to wait for their 2023 and 2024 cyber servants. Thematically consistent, but I clearly need to clean my glasses.

  3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Big Brother

    And in other news

    Baldy Bezos takes a controlling interest in Boston Dynamic and announces plans to replace ALL workers in Amazon warehouses. Plus, they will start with the plants that voted to unionize last week.

    In a further quote, he said that his ultimate aim was to make Amazon the first operation that did away with all workers below 'C' level execs.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When all the jobs are done by AI and robots...

    ...and no-one has a job, who exactly is going to spend money to make those companies rich?

    1. Zack Mollusc

      Re: When all the jobs are done by AI and robots...

      That is a long-term question. Companies do not consider the long term.

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: When all the jobs are done by AI and robots...

      @AC

      "...and no-one has a job, who exactly is going to spend money to make those companies rich?"

      I am sure people had the same fears when people moved out of the fields. Or out of the manufacturing plants. And yet the places with a vast surplus of labour seem stuck in those older ways.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: When all the jobs are done by AI and robots...

        "vast surplus of labour seem stuck in those older ways"

        You mean PEOPLE who need to earn money to live? How outrageous they should expect to find work and earn a living. Not every person can be a robot building AI coder.

        1. codejunky Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: When all the jobs are done by AI and robots...

          @AC

          "You mean PEOPLE who need to earn money to live? How outrageous they should expect to find work and earn a living"

          I mean poor countries where there is a huge surplus of labour that is still toiling in a field just to eat. Something left behind by the rest of the world who use machines to do those jobs and the people go on to do other things.

  5. Grumpy Fellow
    Meh

    Forklift?

    To unload a trailer I was thinking the robot would have forks to lift and withdraw a loaded wood pallet, a knife to remove the plastic wrap holding the cardboard boxes together, whatever it takes to transfer the boxes to their next location, then back to the forks to move the empty wood pallet onto the empty pallet stack. Or maybe this robot needs to be used in pairs at both source and destination.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Forklift?

      You just adapt the container and the load to work with the robots, automation all the way through.

      1. Sixtiesplastictrektableware Bronze badge

        Re: Forklift?

        I was about to think of a response when I thought: "Waitaminute-- this 'bot is trying to steal my job. Why would I tell this thing how to unload a truck?"

        In closing: fuck you, warehouse 'bot. Good luck with straps and load-bars, you stupid toaster.

  6. Winkypop Silver badge
    Terminator

    Walter Tevis, Mockingbird (SF novel, 1980)

    This deals with a dystopian automated future very well.

    Well worth a read.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Right Way

    The wrong way is Amazon buying 100,000 robots, and firing 100,000 people to increase productivity and have less people to share the pie with.

    The right way is Amazon hiring 100,000 robots from 100,000 people to increase productivity and have more pie to share with the same people.

    Our future jobs should be that of Robot Keeper.

    Once your robot gets home from work with their cache full and some parts not moving, you could spend a couple hours fixing it for tomorrow's shift.

    Companies shouldn't be able to own robots, just like they don't own people... (wish).

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