Your next assembly lines may have Baxter robot doing pick-up (w/ Video)

Rethink Robotics is introducing Baxter to the manufacturing sector with a note: Baxter can ignite a revolution in breaking down costs and safety barriers holding back automation in American manufacturing. The Boston-based company says the $22,000 (list price) robot is a fraction of the cost of traditional industrial robots "with zero integration required." Baxter has been expressly designed to work on assembly lines to perform menial tasks. Baxter has two arms, each with seven degrees of freedom, and a reach similar to that of a human, to take over the mindless menial tasks. It can load, unload, sort, pack, unpack, snap-fit, grind and polish.

Credit: Rethink Robotics
Credit: Rethink Robotics

What is not at all mindless about Baxter is its design in that, for an industrial robot, Baxter enjoys an incredible lightness of non-being. Baxter has thick, round arms, but they are not heavy. The arm moves in a fluid motion. "When you hold the cuff, the robot goes into gravity-compensation," said Rodney Brooks, the company founder, "zero-force mode," as if the arm is floating.
The company offers Baxter with two kinds of grippers to choose from. Electric parallel grippers enable Baxter to pick up objects of varying sizes. Vacuum cup grippers are meant for hard-to-grasp objects, such as smooth, nonporous or relatively flat items.

While Baxter is not the ideal choice for tasks that require an extremely strong or fast industrial robot, Baxter is smart enough to adapt to changes. The robot uses vision to locate and grasp objects, and can be programmed to perform a new task just by holding its arms and moving them to the desired position. The robot can continue to work even after missing a pick-up or dropping a part. It can visually detect parts and adapt to variations in part placement and conveyor speed. If Baxter drops an object, it knows to get another before trying to finish the task.

Another differentiator is that, while Baxter is smart, it does not require a high learning curve. One of the argued barriers to industrial adoption of robots has been training requirements to operate industrial robots. The disadvantage has been in the thought of requiring employees to train in programming and in interacting with new robotic equipment, eating up time and financial output. Rethink's team claims Baxter units can be retasked in a matter of minutes. "No custom application code is required to get it started. So no costly software or manufacturing engineers are required to program it," according to the company. Baxter is taught via a graphical user interface and through direct manipulation of its robot arms. Nontechnical, hourly workers can train and retrain Baxter right on the line.

As for safety, the designers gave Baxter sensors to detect people within contact distance and trigger the robot to slow to safe operation speeds. If Baxter's power supply were cut, its arms would relax slowly. Employees would have time to move out of the way.

Baxter is based on the vision of roboticist. Rodney Brooks, company founder of Rethink Robotics, which started in 2008. Baxter's first shipments will start next month.


Well the speed of the robot is not impressive nor are its accessories, but it does show promise with its price and ease of use. As someone who has worked on menial tasks in factory settings with what this video has shown I would not buy one...... yet. Maybe in 10 years when they upgrade this robot to be able to take over a larger array of tasks. Guess well have to wait a little longer until we can all quit our crappy jobs.

So if you could fire 10 employees with that robot cutting your costs by 20k/mo you would not do it? I think you need a good calculator my friend.

I'm just saying that what the video showed me was not impressive. I don't really see what jobs that it could do proficiently. If it could work as well as a human on an assembly line yes I would use them instead but baxter is slow! and from what I saw of it on the video and the multiple others that I looked at online it could only pick up the plastic knobs specifically made for the demo. Not once did I see a video of it picking up anything other than the two items that were produced for the Baxter demo. When they come out with a video of baxter working in a factory environment at near production speed doing work that was previously done by factory workers I will be more impressed but this video and the others that I saw of baxter did not show me that.

Oh yeah and how is that robot going to do 10 times more work than a human? I think you need a calculator and new pair of glasses my friend.

The Robot is slow, but the robot works almost 24/7

So it works at an absurdly slow pace lets say 1/4 the speed of a human and that is very generous but works 3 times more than a human plus lets say it works on weekends as well. Then if it working 24/7 365 it will work as well as a person. But as the gentleman up top pointed out this robot shows promise for the future and isn't necessarily the solution.

Speed is the least of our issues here since 'perfecting' a product by orders of magnitude (if its actively worked on) happens in a year or two (at most) - though in RBE it would happen sooner because we'd re-allocate all of the necessary resources into doing it instead of constricting ourselves with money.

Plus this is hardly anything new.
Robotic arms were invented in 1956.
Had we adapted those from the get go in the entire production industry (and not just sparsely), we'd already surpassed this little robot some time ago.

Actually its likely we already have... but since we still live in a monetary system... implementing such advanced technology would probably be 'costly' from a $$$ point of view.

Very true, money is holding us back from our dreams as a society. If we could give up on the idea that money is the end all answer and question to all things on earth and go take a break from it for a few years we could redesign much of our private and public infrastructure. But alas that would mean that money isn't the answer and much of the public would disagree upon that because that would mean everything that they were taught is wrong.

I kid you not, I had a dream very similar to this last night. I was at a town hall meeting discussing illegal immigration and was explaining how some form of migrant workers were necessary because Americans do not want to do the manual labor jobs migrant workers tend to take. One of the people in the audience asked me how we could fix this problem and I said easy, have a robot that goes through the fields and picks the vegetables, fruits, cotton etc for you.I then showed them my design which looked similar to Baxter but on four wheels and it rode over the plants, then told them they may not like this because this would mean they would have to educate themselves in order to fill the job positions that were needed for the higher tech positions and they would have to stop blaming brown people for their problems. But they didn't get the tar and feathers until I told them I was raising taxes on alcohol ;) I have weird dreams.

The beginning of the End...

Hopefully just of Scarcity and not the People

We've moved well beyond scarcity over 100 years ago.
Today we live in an 'artificially induced scarcity'.

You need to read more.
That is naive.

Lets see... we perfected recycling technology in the late 19th century which allowed us to disassemble waste into base elements and reconstitute them into something else or into alternative energy sources.

Landfills are plentiful on this planet (have been for over 100 years) that are filled with matter which we can convert into superior synthetic materials (for usage in construction, tools, electronics/computers, transportation, etc.).

Humanity had the ability to extract energy from wind in the late 19th century...
First geothermal powerplant (producing heat and electricity) came into operation in 1911.
By 1929, the world could have transitioned to geothermal for baseload production using wind as a supplement.

We had the technology to desalinate water in the early 20th century (was perfected a few months ago with Graphene which drove efficiency up to 99% - though it was perfectly viable even before that), and the technology to extract water from the atmosphere is decades old.

In the early 20th century, there was more than enough food to go around for everyone...
Humanity has been producing 17% more calories per each individual on the planet for over 30 years, resulting in enough food to feed 10 billion annually (this is with outdated agricultural methods which are unsustainable and damaging).
Over 50% of that food is currently destroyed because it cannot be 'sold' and its not 'cost effective' (cheap from $$ point of view) or profitable to give it to people who are starving and dyeing (close to 1.5 billion people on Earth are currently starving while 15 million children die on an annual basis).
The concept of vertical farming is anything but new.
Hydroponics first began in 1940's (growth of food without soil - which eliminates pesticides).
We could have combined hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics in fully automated vertical farms for roughly 50 years (robotic arms were invented in late 1950's), eliminating also pesticides, GMO and chemicals (all of which lower nutritional value of foods and poison our bodies slowly in the process).
Today we can grow food up to 5x faster by using above mentioned techniques in Omega gardens (which forces plants to fight against gravity and produce more nutrients as a result).

Getting the necessary materials (in abundance by several factors) can be done from landfills via recycling for over 100 years now.
Currently, we are using outdated/inefficient materials (which are being extracted from the planet) in construction (and every other branch) with planned obsolescence in mind.

Mag-lev trains... established by scientists in 1972 that they are a lot faster (400km/h for the initial version back in the day) and 10x more energy efficient compared to regular trains, require little to no maintenance, along with the premise that vacuumed mag-lev trains can achieve speeds of 6500km/h.

By the end of 2008 there were 4.1 billion cellphones in existence.
Today, that number would be very close to 7 billion.
However... one doesn't necessarily take into account electronic waste.
The amount of computers, electronics and cell phones that ended up on landfills over the past decade alone would be enough to create several cell devices for every person on the planet a few times over (we ARE talking about millions of tonnes of waste here).

And that's not all of it.

While I will agree that there are many more things for me to learn and read upon, I do not think I'm being 'naive' by stating that we live in an artificially induced scarcity type environment.

We are producing abundance left and right using horribly inefficient methods alone (which is damaging to the environment) and are using money to prohibit access,

Now imagine what would happen if we were actually producing abundance using the most sophisticated and efficient materials and means of production that minimize our impact (with sustainability in mind) and are in line with our scientific knowledge, free of planned obsolescence.
We'd be able to use less resources, creating more, constantly recycling, technological evolution and leaps would happen at practically every turn without 'money' being used as a limit.

As I said... I don't pretend to know everything... but I do know quite a lot and I would definitely recommend that you brush up on our technological development over the past 120 years.

It was great to see the old printshop and everyone who works there again. I am excited to see a printing business still operating and growing, great job guys