New Factory Robot Learns from Hands-on Demos
Baxter is designed to work in factories alongside humans. It's ten times cheaper than most factory robots and is easy to train for different tasks.
CREDIT: Rethink Robotics
You don't need to be a computer scientist to program this new robot. Just touch its wrist to get its attention, then move its arms where you like. At the same time, answer some questions by pressing buttons on the touchscreen that serves as the robot's face. To check if the training worked, press play to see the automaton, named Baxter, repeat the motions you've just taught it. Baxter can learn tasks in hour and is meant to be so simple to use, people never have to read its manual, Businessweek reported.
Baxter is a cheap, flexible robot designed to work in factories alongside people. Its creators, a startup called Rethink Robotics (formerly Heartland Robotics), hope their creation will expand the use of robots in U.S. manufacturing. Baxter's ability to learn new tasks means it could work in several industries, while its $22,000 price tag means even small and mid-size companies are able afford it. Most manufacturing robots cost ten times as much and are found only in large factories, Businessweek and the electrical engineers' magazine IEEE Spectrum reported.
Among the robotics innovation in Baxter are its arms, which have nearly the same range of movement as human arms, and its ability to adapt to the situation, such as a misplaced part or a change in conveyer belt speed, Spectrum reported. It also has several features to make it especially friendly for humans to work with. One unusual feature: It uses its touchscreen face to convey emotions that help it communicate naturally with people. It can shoot a confused look at its human trainer if it doesn't understand what it's being taught, for example.
More robots mean more efficient, competitive U.S. factories, which would help U.S. companies win more bids against overseas competitors, Rethink Robotics CEO Scott Eckert told Businessweek. Yet American factory workers are already are much more productive than workers overseas, Businessweek noted. U.S. companies produce $2 trillion worth of goods with a tenth of the workforce of China, which produces $2.2 trillion in goods.
"Companies turn to overseas manufacturers not only because they're cheaper but because the rest of their supply chain is concentrated in the same region. Baxter can't solve that problem," Businessweek wrote.
Both Businessweek and Spectrum talked with one small company, with 30 employees, that plans to buy a Baxter, which Rethink Robotics will start selling in about a month. For Connecticut-based Vanguard Plastics, Baxter will free employees to take on more jobs that require judgment and thought. "It allows our people to use their minds more than their hands, which is really what you want in your plant," the company's president, Chris Budnick, told Businessweek.