Announcing it is ushering in a new era in robotics, Rethink Robotics (www.rethinkrobotics.com) unveiled humanoid robots capable of applying common sense behavior to manufacturing environments on Sept. 18. Said to be affordably priced, versatile and safe enough to work shoulder-to-shoulder with people, Rethink’s new line of Baxter robots seek to redefine how small, mid-size and large domestic manufacturers use automation to compete with manufacturers in low-cost regions of the world.
“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of super-human speed and precision. What’s proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do--in other words, that are able to inherently understand and adapt to their environments,” said Rodney Brooks, founder and CTO of Rethink Robotics and also co-founder of iRobot and former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. “We believed that if we could cross that chasm with the manufacturing environment specifically in mind, we could offer new hope to the millions of American manufacturers who are looking for innovative ways to compete in our global economy.”
According to the company, Rethink’s Baxter robots are groundbreaking in six different ways in that they can:
• Apply common sense to its environment--Baxter understands and can adapt to the way the world works. For example, if Baxter drops an object, it knows to get another before trying to finish the task.
• Safely work alongside humans--Baxter comes complete with sensors and related software to help it see and understand its environment. These design elements, coupled with its ability to apply common sense, allow Baxter to work next to people--eliminating the need for cages to keep robots and people separate.
• Be trained with no expertise required--Unlike traditional robots that require sophisticated software programming, Baxter can be trained just as you would teach a person.
• Offer broad task flexibility--Because of its versatility and the short amount of time it takes to retrain, Baxter can be moved by production personnel to different and varying tasks over the course of a day, week and month.
• Bring automation to manufacturers of all sizes--Baxter was specifically designed to be affordable for midsize and small manufacturers. The list price for the Baxter robot is $22,000 and with zero integration required, the solution is a fraction of the cost of a traditional industrial robot.
• Go from delivery to the factory floor in one hour--Baxter is a complete and self-contained system. Unlike traditional robots that require manufacturers to make additional capital investments and develop custom software, Baxter comes ready to be used on the factory floor in less than one hour.
Manufacturers like Nypro have already seen the potential of Rethink’s Baxter. “Our customers come to us because they trust us to bring the highest quality and the best value,” said Michael McGee, Director of Technology, Nypro Inc. “Our business has been built on that trust one customer at a time for over half a century, around the world. Rethink and their advanced robotics platform Baxter, helps us to sustain this offering and enables us to continue to bring solutions to today’s complex manufacturing challenges.”
Baxter is a complete system with application software that will be enhanced through regular software updates. Rethink will also make a software development kit (SDK) available in early 2013, opening up Baxter-centered innovation to programmers, robot enthusiasts, inventors and anyone else with a passion for cutting edge technology.
“Our guiding vision was to create a robot that would break the mold in two distinct ways. First, the robot had to inherently function in a totally new way,” said Scott Eckert, CEO of Rethink Robotics. “We also set out to create a hardware and software platform that could be extended in limitless directions through new software applications. As we release new software that expands Baxter’s abilities, our customers can take advantage by simply updating the software on their robot. And with the SDK, the opportunity to think of new and novel ways to use Baxter is open to the world at large with our customers as the primary beneficiaries.”
From innovation to production, Baxter is uniquely a product of the U.S. “It was important to us that we remain true to the vision of the company and Baxter is proof positive that you can manufacture a superior product cost effectively with American manufacturing,” Eckert concluded.