Ever since it was announced by Rethink Robotics back in September, many of us in the robotics community have been patiently waiting for Baxter to be delivered. Baxter was developed by Rodney Brooks of both MIT and iRobot as a means to bring back manufacturing to the US and allow small to mid-size manufacturers and job shops in the US to compete with operations in lower wage countries. Rethink which had been operating in stealth mode for the past several years and was originally named Heartland Robotics. Hearkening a call that could allow and bring more manufacturing back to the US and allow companies to “rethink” their decision of off-shoring.
Baxter costs about $25,000 depending upon options and with an expected life of a few years, essentially comes as the price of hiring a worker over in China. What makes Baxter unique is that to program him to perform a new task, you don’t need to be able to program. You simply show him what to pick up and where to place it. He can be programmed in under an hour, just after taking him out of the box. Once he is done with the initial task you gave him, move him to another task and reprogram. Baxter was designed to be human safe with sensors so that he can sense when a human is nearby and if he does manage to bump into you, he will stop automatically to prevent further injury. While you won’t see Baxter winning any strength or speed contests, for a first generation robot of his kind, it is quite remarkable.
As the production model starts to get delivered to factories throughout the US, Rethink announced a research edition, which has been recommended by the National Robotics Initiative as a research platform. The Baxter research model will run on ROS, the same operating software the runs Willow Garage’s PR2 and several other robots out there, allowing an easy method for researchers to collaborate. I hope to bring some more pictures of Baxter when he arrives in Colorado.
IMT Career Journal is live at Atlantic Design and Manufacturing, taking place June 18 through 20. The event combines seven events in one, and features 1,000 additional suppliers of materials, equipment, systems, and services used in product design and development. Here, Christian Bonawandt speaks with Sue Sokoloski of Rethink Robotics about how automation and robotics technologies like Baxter could change the way manufacturers hire and the skills needed for manufacturing jobs.