Working Side-by-Side

The big factor in robotics is liability.  When one thinks of the evolution of the distribution of robotic hardware it is easy to see how deployments in the military and medical theater are the forerunners for business and home use.  Rodney Brooks has been an innovator of home robotics since his days of founding iRobot, and now with Baxter he plans to revolutionize the work environment.

A recent WIRED Magazine video (above) shows how Tesla motors is taking collaborative robots to the next level with humans now working side-by-side with their industrial machine co-workers.  Now that makes sense for a massive car assembly line that costs 100s of millions of dollars, but how does that translate for smaller businesses.  At Gibson Engineering’s convention booth, Rethink Robotics’  Baxter robot was on display showing how it (or he) could lift circular plastic parts off a conveyor and place them in a box. What was intriguing was that programming was done by grabbing Baxter’s arm and showing “him” the task to be performed.

“Instead of programming it, you grab and teach it how,” said Robert MacDonald, director of sales and marketing for Gibson Engineering of Norwood, Mass., a Rethink distributor for New England, northern New Jersey and metro New York.  Baxter uses a camera to track a product on a conveyor, then picks it up and places it in a box. He said that it works with a piece that is 5 pounds or less, and that it takes about a half hour for setup and instruction of its use.” A lot of times when we bring Baxter to a customer. It is not programming, but it is really teaching and we get the operators to do it,” said MacDonald. Harley Green, Gibson project specialist for Baxter, works each day with the robot, and notes that it is a continuing process. Each update allows it to do more. He said that Baxter draws interest in many different sectors, ranging from manufacturing to handling money for investment companies and banks.

The interesting thing is the price of Baxter robot ($22,000) is the equivalent of hirer a low-skilled employee or the cost of buying a used Tesla car produced by 160 robots and 3,000 human beings.