Ordinarily, when we think of places where industrial robots are used, we picture the factory floors of deep-pocketed corporations such as Ford or Honda. That could soon change, however, with today’s announcement of the Baxter robot. Made by Boston-based Rethink Robotics, it costs about half as much as most of the least expensive industrial robots currently on the market. Also, it is reportedly very user-friendly – no robotics experts or custom software are required when teaching it new tasks.
According to the company, the two-armed robot “can be trained just as you would teach a person.” This means that a regular factory worker could teach Baxter to perform a new task by physically guiding it through the required motions, within less than half an hour – no code-writing required. Once it has learned a task, it is said to be able to apply common sense to what it’s doing. If it should drop an item, for instance, it will realize that it needs to get another one in order to complete its task.
That claimed common sense, along with various integrated sensors, allows Baxter to be aware of and to “understand” its surroundings. It is therefore able to safely work alongside humans, slowing down its actions when they enter its workspace, and ceasing its movements when unexpectedly making contact with them.
Along with its price, one of the attractions for smaller manufacturers is the fact that the robot can reportedly be on the factory floor and ready for training in less than one hour after delivery – no additional hardware or software is needed. Because it can be trained new tasks relatively quickly (and can be mounted on an optional wheeled pedestal), it is conducive to performing several functions in several locations, even within the same day.
Owners will be able to expand the capabilities of their robots with regular software updates. Some of these updates will come courtesy of a development kit, which will allow people in the robotics community to develop new software.
Baxter is available now for pre-order at a price of US$22,000, with shipments scheduled to begin next month. The robot can be seen in action in the video below.