Boston Dynamics enters logistics market with Kinema Systems acquisition

The Robot Report heard rumors about this over the last few days, but today it’s been confirmed. Boston Dynamics acquired Kinema Systems, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup that uses vision sensors and deep-learning software to help robots manipulate boxes. Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

As part of the acquisition, Kinema’s Pick system is being rebranded as the Boston Dynamics Pick System. The Pick system, which you can see in the video above, is also featured on Boston Dynamics’ new Handle robot that was unveiled last week. Kinema also beats out SpotMini as the first commercialized product from Boston Dynamics.

Here’s how Boston Dynamics describes the Pick system: “Pick is the world’s first deep-learning based solution designed for robotic depalletizing – specifically the depalletizing of multi-SKU and single SKU pallets. The Pick System is easy to configure using a browser-based GUI, minimizing integration time. It integrates high resolution 3D and 2D sensing to locate a wide variety of boxes and interleaves motion and vision, maximizing pick rates.”

The new Handle robot can be seen in the video below performing both multi-SKU palletizing and depalletizing to conveyor tasks. Boston Dynamics will be running live demos of its Pick system at next week’s Promat in Chicago. As we said last week, Boston Dynamics doesn’t exhibit at trade shows. So having a booth at the leading supply chain event was big news. Now we know why.

“Bringing the Kinema team into Boston Dynamics expands our perception and learning capabilities while the Pick product accelerates our entry into the logistics market,” said Boston Dynamics Founder and CEO Marc Raibert. “Beyond being a powerful tool for industrial robotic arms, Kinema technology will help our mobile manipulation robots tackle a wide variety of complex real-world tasks.”

Sachin Chitta, founder and CEO of Kinema Systems, updated his job title on LinkedIn to Managing Director at Boston Dynamics. Chitta said that “Boston Dynamics’ reputation for innovation fits perfectly with our mission of developing the next generation of vision-enabled warehouse robots.”

While development continues on Handle, Boston Dynamics is already selling and supporting Pick for interested customers. The acquisition will also establish Boston Dynamics’ first office in Silicon Valley. With plans to expand the team in the Bay Area this year, they will focus on developing and selling advanced robotics products for the logistics market as well as researching, developing and applying deep learning and vision to the Boston Dynamics family of robots.

The video above shows the Pick system in action on the new Handle robot from Boston Dynamics. Raibert told IEEE Spectrum that the speed of the robots in the video were limited in part because of their vision system. “We’d like to speed up our robots, and the Kinema system is going to let us do vision a lot more effectively.”

No question Boston Dynamics has been more application-concious since it was acquired in mid-2017 by SoftBank. The development of Handle and SpotMini, and the Kinema acquisition, point directly to that. Now it’s up to Boston Dynamics to prove the Pick-equipped Handle robot can be a cost-effective solution for logistics customers. TechCrunch has a great quote from Raibert speaking to Boston Dynamics’ focus on applications.

“I think Google planted the seed. And all of the other robotics companies near us were much more focused on applications and product than we were. So we’ve been turning that corner. It’s been a consistent thing. It’s not like we got to SoftBank and they hit us with a hammer and suddenly said, ‘make products.’ They’ve been extremely enthusiastic about our R&D work, too. It feels good to do both.”