Baxter the robot

A robot for unskilled tasks that every plant has.

01/24/2013

Flash is required!

Scott Eckert, rethink robotics CEO, talks to Peter Welander at Automate2013.



Baxter the robot.The Automate show has been in Chicago this week, and that means lots of robots. Normally that isn’t my coverage area for Control Engineering, but I received an opportunity to come down and meet Baxter, the new offering from Rethink Robotics. Baxter has gotten a great deal of exposure since he came onto the scene last fall. He’s been the subject of articles in newspapers and business magazines, as well as TV appearances.

Baxter is designed to be versatile, inexpensive, and simple to use. For a fraction of the cost of a simple traditional industrial robot, you can buy your own unit and have him in your plant. Anybody (within reason) can program him. He’s on wheels, so you can move him to any workstation. His movements are kind of slow, but that is intentional so he can work next to people and not endanger anybody. His arms bend and they stop when hitting an obstruction. You could probably beat him in an arm wrestling contest.

Actually Baxter makes me think of the broom-carrying robot from the Warner Brothers cartoon, “House Hunting Mice” from 1947 (pictured), although he can’t roll himself around. Maybe there was some design influence.

An earlier robot concept.So, what’s the big deal? Why all this exposure, and why was there always a crowd around the company’s booth at the show? Compared to other robots, Baxter is the equivalent of unskilled labor. That’s not a put-down because manufacturing facilities all need some folks that are happy doing jobs that others would find far too boring. Baxter can be there in the plant, and when he’s needed, roll him to the right spot and train him to do the task. By all appearances, he can be trained for a simple function in a matter of minutes following an intuitive teaching method. You don’t plug in a laptop, write any code, deal with a PLC, or any of that. His two arms can even be programmed to carry out separate and unrelated tasks. Baxter is cheap enough that if he doesn’t have something to do every day, you won’t feel like you’re wasting money.

I’ve worked in enough manufacturing situations to have seen many scenarios where Baxter would do the job nicely. There are faster robots, stronger robots, and more sophisticated robots that are probably better suited to more complex tasks, but few if any that are easier to work with. The question will be if users find his skill set enough to make him one of those indispensible devices that every plant will want. It may come down to creativity.

Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com



No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
World-class maintenance: The three keys to success - Deploy people, process and technology; 2016 Lubrication Guide; Why hydraulic systems get hot
Your leaks start here: Take a disciplined approach with your hydraulic system; U.S. presence at Hannover Messe a rousing success
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Improving flowmeter calibration; Selecting flowmeters for natural gas; Case study: Streamlining assembly systems using PC-based control; CLPM: Improving process efficiency, throughput
Putting COPS into context; Designing medium-voltage electrical systems; Planning and designing resilient, efficient data centers; The nine steps of designing generator fuel systems
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me