In one of the most daring and brilliant innovations of the decade so far, Rodney Brooks and his company Rethink Robotics have ushered in a new era in industrial robotics, by developing Baxter, the blue collared robot.
Standing at 3 ft tall and weighing about 165 lbs without pedestal and 5’10’’ – 6’3” and 306 lbs with the pedestal, Baxter can perform variety of small jobs such as loading, unloading, sorting and handling of materials in small and medium scale industries. It has amazing ability to learn by memorizing the hand movements of the any ordinary person, unlike most other industrial robots who require extensive programming and coding to teach them to perform a job.
Baxter has the unique distinction of being one of the only industrial robots which can “express” itself. It has an animated screen with a pair of eyes peering out of it, which give different expressions according to the situation, such as showing confusion if it fails to understand one of the instructions given to it. It runs on open source robot operating system on a personal computer embedded on its chest. What makes Baxter stand out among the huge range of industrial robots is its adaptability. Unlike most other robots which either stop working or continue to work erroneously when there is a minimal change to the work conditions, Baxter has numerous sensors on its head region which sense the change in environment quite efficiently and work accordingly. Due to its adaptability, it has very little safety issues and makes humans and robots working as co-workers possible.
Though there is controversy surrounding its release to the market and fear of Baxter eating up the jobs of low level workers, these fears are unwarranted. Baxter still needs humans to teach him various jobs. It is adaptable, but not so adaptable that it can become completely independent. According to Rodney Brooks, Baxter is designed to perform repetitive jobs and people are still needed to do jobs such as quality assurance and small assembly. Baxter currently has a base price of $22,000.