This year, Rethink Robotics will offer a Software Development Kit that enables customers and third parties to develop unique task applications. As a result, Baxter will be more than just a robot, it will be a platform for third-party capability development—much like mobile phones and PCs are today.
Mitch Rosenberg | Rethink Robotics
Please tell us a bit about Baxter and some of the technology behind it?
Baxter is Rethink Robotics’ flagship product and is a completely new type of robot that is redefining the way robots can be used in manufacturing environments. Baxter contains a suite of integrated sensors and a basic knowledge of how to perform a wide range of simple manufacturing operations. Unlike traditional industrial robots, Baxter comes complete with all the hardware and software it needs to get right to work – it can be working productively within an hour.
How it is able to work in close proximity to humans?
Baxter is able to work alongside humans because it Baxter is designed to have compliant joints and backdriveable motors. As a result, if a human is inadvertently contacted by Baxter’s arm, the arm “gives” so that the human is not harmed.
What makes Baxter special and different from other robotic systems?
Baxter is a robot with ‘common sense’. It is capable of sensing and adapting to its tasks and environment. It can visually detect parts and instantly adapt to variations in part placement and conveyor speed. It can also adjust to changes in surface heights without being told. Unlike traditional industrial robots, Baxter can be easily trained by typical non-technical manufacturing workers.
Because Baxter was designed to work elbow to elbow with people, there is no need for safety cages with Baxter. No special expertise or expensive application software is required to customize Baxter for unique tasks. And because it contains a wide range of safety features, there’s no need to integrate external sensors or safety equipment. A complete, integrated system, Baxter can be repurposed quickly and easily—without new application software or hardware integration. Now, manufacturers can automate operations that experience frequent line turnover.
What level of training does Baxter’s human supervisor need?
Baxter is designed to reduce cost of ownership, not just cost of acquisition. No custom application code is required to get started, so no costly software or manufacturing engineers are required to program it. Baxter can be ‘taught’ via a graphical user interface and through direct manipulation of its robot arms. That means non-technical, hourly workers can train and retrain right on the line.
How can it be used now and what vision does Rethink have for the future?
Currently, Baxter can be used to perform several simple tasks including: material handling; loading and unloading lines; inspecting, testing and sorting; machine operation; packing and unpacking; and light assembly. This year, Rethink Robotics will offer a Software Development Kit that enables customers and third parties to develop unique task applications. As a result, Baxter will be more than just a robot, it will be a platform for third-party capability development—much like mobile phones and PCs are today.
Can you tell us about Rethink Robotics --- where did you come from and where are you going?
Rethink Robotics was founded in 2008 by Rodney Brooks, a robotics pioneer. Rod was a co-founder of iRobot. From 1984 to 2010, Rod was on the faculty of MIT as the Panasonic Professor of Robotics and was the director of MIT CSAIL, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. While at MIT, Rod developed the behavior-based approach to robotics that underlies the robots of both iRobot and Rethink Robotics. Today, Rethink Robotics is focused on creating smarter, more adaptable, low-cost robotic solutions that help manufacturers improve efficiency, increase productivity and reduce the need for offshoring.
About Rethink Robotics
Rethink Robotics is combining the power of computers - embodied in robots - and the extraordinary intelligence of the American workforce, to increase productivity and revitalize manufacturing.
About Mitch Rosenberg, VP of Marketing and Product Management of Rethink Robotics
Mitch's career has focused on connecting vision to execution in technology firms offering disruptive innovations. His most recent role was VP, Marketing & Product Management for Kiva Systems, where he was an integral part of bringing the company to 6th place in the 2009 Forbes 500 ranking of the fastest growing privately held US companies. An MIT-trained electrical engineer with an MBA from Boston University, Mitch has held senior marketing and operations positions at PictureTel, Kurzweil Computer Products and Automatix.
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