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Baxter industrial robot aims at bringing automation to smaller manufacturers

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September 18, 2012

Baxter is a relatively inexpensive new industrial robot, that can reportedly be trained to...

Baxter is a relatively inexpensive new industrial robot, that can reportedly be trained to perform tasks by regular people

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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.

Baxter's various integrated sensors allow it to be aware of and to “understand” its surrou...

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.

Source: Rethink Robotics via New Scientist

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
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9 Comments

Universal Robots in Denmark is doing the same thing... They're one of the fastest growing companies in Denmark. I saw a demo at Mekanik12, an industry convention last week. Impressive. Let's hope these drive automation towards the smaller companies - and keep (or increase) manufacturing and prototyping jobs!

JohnEbbinghaus
19th September, 2012 @ 09:05 am PDT

Do we end up with just a society of intellectuals creating the designs for such devices, which are then fed into a roboitcs factory for manufacture and subsequent shipment to other manufacturing establishments?

Not everyone is an intellectual and it seems to me that if the technology can be taken right down to really small scale businesses, then we are going to create a large pool of disgruntled, unemployed ex-factory workers.

There is strength in numbers and we had better have a plan for how we as a society handle such a situation, rather than simply employing this technology willy-nilly until there is a revolt.

Mel Tisdale
19th September, 2012 @ 01:36 pm PDT

awesome, now small guys can compete in real time.

Stephen N Russell
19th September, 2012 @ 04:52 pm PDT

funglestrumpet: Machines don't put people out of work, they make the work people do more efficient. We all benefit, even if there is a transition period as people re-train. I thought this argument died out years ago. If it were valid, the industrial revolution would not have happened. Managers who act "willy-nilly" get fired. If they don't the business is not competitive and goes under. Problem solved. It's called: Capitalism.

voluntaryist
19th September, 2012 @ 06:00 pm PDT

@voluntaryist That may have been the case so far but as machines, computers & robots become ever smarter and more capable, I believe the day will come (probably in my lifetime) when they are more capable than humans in most ways. Then what? Human workers will be obsolete. Businesses will need to use robots to stay competitive. Most people will become unemployed. The capitalist system isn't designed for that and a new system will be required. Capitalism is effective when people are both workers and consumers. I believe that a move towards democratic socialism or some other way of redistributing goods will be essential for maintaining a flourishing human society. I just hope that the transition is by design, not by revolution.

Benjamin Franzmayr
21st September, 2012 @ 07:30 am PDT

This is the future of small enterprise. We need to quit worrying about losing jobs to robots and realize those jobs are already lost to slave wage labor overseas. We can't compete with those areas with horrible wage standards without robotics unless we are willing to work for horrible wages ourselves. I only wish the robotic revolution that is coming happened before so many businesses were lost or damaged by cheap overseas labor.

Of course now that overseas companies have been enriched by us, they are also investing in robotics so it won't be a competition free environment. Hopefully this will lead to more domestic manufacturing for domestic markets - regardless of where you live. That way governments will have more of an incentive to enrich their populations with better wages and multinational corporations won't be able to chase cheap labor around the globe.

Shishkabugs
23rd September, 2012 @ 08:39 am PDT

Back in 2003 when I was retrenched from the telecommunications industry I did 18months full-time study and earnt myself a Diploma of Mechatronic Engineering.

Alas I found it qualified me to do not much more than operate this type of machine for wages that kids at Macdonalds were getting.

To be in the market for a robotic technician job installing the machinery for tradesman's wages you will need an advanced diploma ie another 12 months study.

Obsolete? yep thats me.

My opinion of the robotix industry? it sux.

nutcase
24th September, 2012 @ 01:35 am PDT

We've actually lost more jobs to automation than to "outsourcing.," and the historic trend is that automation does destroy jobs; the textile industry is a prime example, as automation and mechanization in cotton farming has reduced the manpower needed to run a cotton farm from 1 person per acre in 1840, to 1 person per 600 or more acres in 2007.

The biggest problem is that, since we have become a more industrial and urban society, many of the jobs that attracted farm workers displaced by mechanization to the city have since been eliminated by automation, or by a combination of automation and outsourcing.

William H Lanteigne
27th September, 2012 @ 09:32 am PDT

Baxter appears to be a three year old child picking up objects and putting them down again. Let's see Baxter doing this simple task at three operations per second with extreme precision, then worry about a revolution.

The concept of easy training and open source apps (hopefully) are the way to go, but the device itself needs to be seen to have untold capabilities ready to go.

The cute eyes and rotating screen say, 'Me Toy'.

Threesixty
30th September, 2012 @ 04:09 am PDT
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