Joynt: Baxter the robot brings “common sense” to manufacturing

Jordan Joynt

Robotics and manufacturing company Rethink Robots have devised a new breed of robot designed specifically for productivity within factories. The robot known as Baxter differs from previous factory robots in that it can adapt to changes in the environment and is programmed to work intelligently on its own.

Baxter is described as a co-working robot, designed to utilize skills for basic manufacturing operations in small businesses.

The robot’s skills range from material handling to performing operation sequences on machinery. In addition to material handling and operation, Baxter can also perform finishing operations such as grinding and polishing on parts and machinery.

Baxter will replace many of the workers on the assembly line. The workers could then be used as trainers, teaching Baxter using a graphical user interface or through manipulation of the robot’s arms.

Baxter’s ability to adapt to various changes in the environment allows for quick assessment and increased productivity in the workplace. It will be able to detect subtle variations in conveyor speed and part placement and react accordingly.

Unexpected changes in the workplace trigger behavioral changes in Baxter, and it applies logic to the situation without missing a beat.

Safety features and sensors added to the robot separate this co-worker bot from standard robots used in present-day factories. These added measures allow Baxter to work alongside other workers as opposed to industrial robots, which typically work in seclusion.

No sharp edges are used and potentially harmful areas are covered with a protective padding. A series of sensors detect humans in range of the robot and Baxter responds by slowing down its operation speed.

“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of superhuman speed and precision,” said Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics founder. “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 environment.”

Baxter is expected to cost around $22,000, with Rethink Robotics hoping to add the exclusive, behavior-based robot to American manufacturers in the near future.