It looks a lot like a high-tech coat rack with a strange telescoping arm — but it’s actually a look at a chore-less future. Well, maybe not chore-less, but chore-reduced.
This is Stretch, the first device from Hello Robot, a company that’s been operating in stealth mode for the first three years of its existence. The startup was founded in 2017 by Aaron Edsinger, Google’s former director of robotics, and Charlie Kemp, a robotics professor at Georgia Tech.
Stretch is a lanky robot designed to carry out a broad range of tasks with its telescoping arm and grabber tool. It can play tug-of-war with your dog, take your laundry out of the dryer, and clean up after your kids.
It’s also not quite ready to breeze through your apartment. Stretch isn’t a consumer-facing product just yet; its first iteration is made with researchers in mind. The idea here is for researchers to utilize Stretch to understand the future of home automation. A single Stretch unit will also run you about $17,950 right now, so it’s not exactly built for mass-market adoption just yet.
Simple and stretchy — Stretch is not your average robot. Weighing in at just 50 lbs, Stretch is much easier to move around the house than other, more complex robotic systems on the market today. At its thickest point, Stretch is also just 34 centimeters by 33 centimeters — so it can easily be stowed away in a closet when you’re not using it.
Much of what makes Stretch unique is its simplicity. Where most robotic research units are complex by nature, Stretch is just a single telescoping grabber — made of a pair of rubber cups and a few metal springs — with a central hoisting pole.
Researchers at Hello Robot knew this simplicity would allow for a lower cost-of-entry for researchers (even at $17,950, Stretch is a fraction of the price of similar robots) and a smaller device footprint for consumers in the future.
Somewhat autonomous — Stretch is powered by powerful, open-sourced software. Though the robot was originally designed to be entirely teleoperated by the user, its creators soon found that the process of doing so was more cumbersome than it was helpful.
The version of Stretch we’re seeing today is, for that reason, built with some basic autonomy. Stretch can move around a room on its own and complete basic tasks like picking things up and putting them down. For more complicated tasks, Stretch can be controlled from a computer.
Even without considering its other innovations, Stretch's autonomy is really something to behold. Other contemporaneous robots — like those stocking shelves in Tokyo and MIT's disinfectant assistant — require direct, focused user control in order to operate.
For consumers... someday — We're sorry to report that Stretch won't be taking over that most reviled of chores anytime soon: folding your laundry. It’ll probably be years at the very least until Stretch is ready for the apartment lifestyle.
But Hello Robot does envision future iterations of Stretch as consumer products. It’ll be up to researchers to push the device to its limits before it can be marketable as a home robot. Pairing Stretch with these deft, grippy fingers, for example, could expand its capabilities even further.
Some day — maybe 10 years from now — Stretch could help elderly or disabled people complete household tasks with ease. Stretch is not the humanoid assistant dreamt of in sci-fi novels. It’s even better.