(By, Kevin Le)
In today’s day and age, industrial robots used in factories and in the manufacturing industry are dangerous, difficult to operate, and often out-of-date. Rodney Brooks, the co-founder of iRobot and the founder of Rethink Robotics , hopes to change that. He and his crew are building a new robot, capable of not only working with humans, but also capable of being maneuvered by humans.
Brooks notes that robots used in factories are programmed too rigidly to be worker-friendly. They can only be re-programmed by specialists, and only serve a single function which doesn’t take into account its surroundings. For example, losing a hand or even a foot can be commonplace in a factory run by industrial robots such as these.
The goal of Rethink Robotics is to create the opposite of this — a safe, worker-friendly, and easily re-programmable robot capable of completing multiple tasks. Brooks’ robot is still in an experimental stage but so far the robot, named “Baxter,” has shown promising results. Baxter’s role isn’t to be a heavy-duty machine that can achieve things humans can’t, but rather instead, to be a helper to the workers it is around. Standing at about 6 feet tall, with two flexible arms and grippers, Baxter also has an LED “face” which lets workers know where the robot is targeting. Baxter’s powerful arms are equipped with ultra-sensitive sensors and can even be trained to do new actions simply by moving its arms into the correct position. However, Baxter’s greatest attribute is its size. Baxter can fit into a human-sized space to complete tasks once considered too trivial to be done by the heavy-duty robots scattered throughout factories today, thus making it easy to store, move, and have multiple Baxter’s.
However, not everyone is happy with Baxter. People are complaining that Baxter will take away jobs from diligent factory workers. However, Brooks argues that Baxter is meant to work with humans, and thus will make human workers even more valuable and efficient. But, like any other new technology, job loss is inevitable. At the moment though, Baxter is revolutionizing how products are being manufactured, and has the potential of becoming Rethink Robotic’s greatest innovation.
“I think we’re going to see people take this robot, program it to do stuff that we never thought of, never imagined. Out of that will come some new applications that we didn’t even consider. And then it gets really exciting.” – Rodney Brooks