Remember Rosie, the Jetson family robot housemaid? She’s real, except she is actually a he, his name is now Baxter, and instead of picking up after Elroy and Astro, Baxter lends a hand to small- and medium-sized businesses. In fact, Rethink Robotics advertises Baxter as being out of the box, set up, and ready to go, all within one hour. Baxter is not a Robot of the future, but rather, a robot of now, and currently available for purchase.
Baxter comes with an LCD screen for a face, which is essentially a tablet in landscape mode. Here, users can change settings and access Baxter’s controls. While he is at work, the LCD screen displays two animated eyes that reflect his “thinking” process. He is able to hold up to 5 pounds of weight per arm, has five cameras built-in, has the abilities to detect humans with 360 degree sonar, and he can even “see” objects and differentiate them from one another. He is able to do light assembly line duties, basic inspections of objects, loading and unloading boxes, polish items, and more; all without complex and custom software code.
Works with Junior Mints and Tea Lights
At MIT Technology Review’s EmTech 2012, Baxter was on demonstration for attendees. He stood at a folding table and was presented with tea light candles and fun sized boxes of Junior Mints. To Baxter’s right sat a plastic pumpkin shaped trick-or-treat bucket and, while I was watching the demonstration, his instructions were to determine the most efficient way to organize the Junior Mint boxes to his left, and to place all the candles into the bucket on his right. The idea behind Baxter is that he can analyze the given situation and determine the best way to complete the task at hand. He effectively concluded that dropping candles into the bucket was the best approach, while placing the boxes of Junior Mints maximized the use of his time.
Baxter is “naturally compliant”, according to Rethink Robotics. Presenters demonstrated this by grabbing Baxter’s arms, mid sorting, to demonstrate how he stops what he is doing and allows his arms to be pushed away. This alleviates any fear of a sci-fi hostile robot takeover, as well as more rational fears of robots replacing the jobs of humans. In fact, Rethink Robotics hopes Baxter will help keep jobs from being outsourced to factories, with his easy to use functionality and cost-friendly price point (as far as robots go, at least). The hope is that growing businesses will utilize robots like Baxter to keep jobs close to home as his assistance will help make it cost-effective to keep jobs at home.
Specifically designed to be safe for users, he is not only compliant, but he maintains human pace and cadence. This makes him easy and safe to work with, rather than put employees at risk of injury from a robot that can move faster than them. Baxter can even help employees who are commonly at risk for repetitive injuries. He can take over one role in production, allowing workers to spend time on other tasks, and Baxter can also keep them from getting injured due to repetitive motion.
Baxter was certainly entertaining to watch, and a big hit at EmTech 2012. The effort put into his appearance and perceived demeanor made him the most endearing plastic, metal, and bolts TG has ever had the pleasure to meet.