Hype aside, there aren’t necessarily all that many areas where robots have the potential to step into an existing workflow and immediately provide a substantial amount of value. But one of the areas that we have seen several robotics companies jump into recently is box manipulation—specifically, using robots to unload boxes from the back of a truck, ideally significantly faster than a human. This is a good task for robots because it plays to their strengths: you can work in a semi-structured and usually predictable environment, speed, power, and precision are all valued highly, and it’s not a job that humans are particularly interested in or designed for.
One of the more novel approaches to this task comes from Dextrous Robotics, a Memphis TN-based startup led by Evan Drumwright. Drumwright was a professor at GWU before spending a few years at the Toyota Research Institute and then co-founding Dextrous in 2019 with an ex-student of his, Sam Zapolsky. The approach that they’ve come up with is to do box manipulation without any sort of suction, or really any sort of grippers at all. Instead, they’re using what can best be described as a pair of moving arms, each gripping a robotic chopstick.