Your next assembly lines may have Baxter robot doing pick-up (w/ Video)

Sep 18, 2012 by Nancy Owano report
Credit: Rethink Robotics

(Phys.org)—Rethink Robotics is introducing Baxter to the manufacturing sector with a note: Baxter can ignite a revolution in breaking down costs and safety barriers holding back automation in American manufacturing. The Boston-based company says the $22,000 (list price) robot is a fraction of the cost of traditional industrial robots "with zero integration required." Baxter has been expressly designed to work on assembly lines to perform menial tasks. Baxter has two arms, each with seven degrees of freedom, and a reach similar to that of a human, to take over the mindless menial tasks. It can load, unload, sort, pack, unpack, snap-fit, grind and polish.

What is not at all mindless about Baxter is its design in that, for an industrial , Baxter enjoys an incredible lightness of non-being. Baxter has thick, round arms, but they are not heavy. The arm moves in a . "When you hold the cuff, the robot goes into gravity-compensation," said Rodney Brooks, the company founder, "zero-force mode," as if the arm is floating.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Credit: Rethink Robotics

The company offers Baxter with two kinds of to choose from. Electric parallel grippers enable Baxter to pick up objects of varying sizes. Vacuum cup grippers are meant for hard-to-grasp objects, such as smooth, nonporous or relatively flat items.

While Baxter is not the ideal choice for tasks that require an extremely strong or fast industrial robot, Baxter is smart enough to adapt to changes. The robot uses vision to locate and grasp objects, and can be programmed to perform a new task just by holding its arms and moving them to the desired position. The robot can continue to work even after missing a pick-up or dropping a part. It can visually detect parts and adapt to variations in part placement and conveyor speed. If Baxter drops an object, it knows to get another before trying to finish the task.

Credit: Rethink Robotics

Another differentiator is that, while Baxter is smart, it does not require a high learning curve. One of the argued barriers to industrial adoption of robots has been training requirements to operate . The disadvantage has been in the thought of requiring employees to train in programming and in interacting with new robotic equipment, eating up time and financial output. Rethink's team claims Baxter units can be retasked in a matter of minutes. "No custom application code is required to get it started. So no costly software or manufacturing engineers are required to program it," according to the company. Baxter is taught via a graphical user interface and through direct manipulation of its robot arms. Nontechnical, hourly workers can train and retrain Baxter right on the line.

As for safety, the designers gave Baxter sensors to detect people within contact distance and trigger the robot to slow to safe operation speeds. If Baxter's power supply were cut, its arms would relax slowly. Employees would have time to move out of the way.

Baxter is based on the vision of roboticist. Rodney Brooks, company founder of Rethink Robotics, which started in 2008. Baxter's first shipments will start next month.

Explore further: A robot dives into search for Malaysian Airlines flight

More information: www.heartlandrobotics.com/index.php/products/baxter/

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baudrunner
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2012
The article claims that Baxter can adapt to the speed of the conveyor. I did not see an example of this ability to outperform a human on a fast moving conveyor belt in the video. On the contrary, Baxter was much to slow to merit application in a real industrial environment. Humans can move much faster, and therefore contribute a great deal more to productivity.
Deathclock
2 / 5 (8) Sep 18, 2012
Hey look, a non-military robot made in the USA... wasn't some communist asshole just bitching about how the US only makes military robots while other countries make robots to better mankind?

(I swear physorg editors intentionally pick articles to prove the dumbasses wrong, this has happened more times than coincidence could account for, and I love it!)
gwrede
2.7 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2012
I've actually worked in a factory when I was young. There are a load of stuff to do for robots of this kind. They really don't have to be all that fast for a lot of things that humans are now doing. The real savings come from wages, not speed. (At least for the time being.)

This Baxter thing is the first, practical, and real-world step forward in a long time. Our factory robots have scarcely improved form those of Cyberdyne Systems in Terminator-I. (Seesh, almost 30 years!) It's time someone got the obvious idea.

And the main thing is, Baxter can be programmed by "regular workers", not Rocket Scientists. During a week or day, they might reprogram him to do dozens of different tasks.

The best place for Baxter (or a few of them) would be a sub-contractor assembly plant, where they do different product runs every month for several clients.

I really expect we'll see Baxter started a new genre of real-world robots.
TrinityComplex
5 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2012
Baudrunner, I'm not sure that they showed it operating at full speed (would have been nice to see), but if speed is a limitation, at a pricetag of $22,000 you could have three Baxters where you would have two people, the third to catch whatever was missed by the other two, and still spend less than the two employees would likely cost after benefits, insurance, and taxes in a year, and it's a one time cost not limited by number of hours a human can work. Maintenance will be an important factor, though, and I'll be interested to see how well they hold up, and if they proliferate internationally. They could easily offer another, more universal type gripper as well, as they've already shown the vacuum capability:
http://phys.org/n...ons.html
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2012
Yeah, what people are forgetting is that these things can operate 24/7 with very little maintenance whereas a human can only operate for a limited amount of time each day (traditionally 8 hours) and demand/are entitled to benefits packages that cost an extraordinary amount of money. You could probably replace a single human worker with 5 of these robots and come out ahead after only a year.
Skepticus
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 18, 2012
The Unions will be pissed about this. They don't slack off, slow down, join unions or down tools to attend unions meetings!
Deathclock
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 18, 2012
I'll prove it:

These cost $22,000 x5 = $110,000

They can run 24/7, or 3 times as long as a human @ 8hrs/day so divide by 3 = 36,666.

Most factory workers make more than this gross, without even including any benefit package. An average benefit package may increase your gross salary by $10,000 per year or more... so if we subtract that you get $26,666.

So, if you are paying each employee more than $26,666 in salary each year (which you almost certainly are) you could replace each employee with FIVE of these robots and make up the initial investment within a year.

Of course this all assumes that the robots perform as well or better than the human... which is yet to be seen.
Deathclock
3.4 / 5 (5) Sep 18, 2012
I know a lot of people will bitch about the jobs lost to things like this, but that is because they aren't thinking about the big picture... the goal for humanity is and has always been to provide for an increased quality of life, which almost always relates to an increase level of wealth and a simultaneous decrease in effort needed to secure that wealth... with robots like these replacing workers prices will fall on the goods that they produce because production costs will fall and free-market competition will then drive prices down. As technology progresses we will work less and earn less as a society but also require less in order to secure necessities and luxuries alike.
Deadbolt
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 18, 2012
Does it really matter if robots put people out of jobs? So long as the economy is productive and we can distribute the resources people need to survive, they won't HAVE to work to survive.

Automation could free humankind up to pursue their personal goals.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2012
Humans can move much faster, and therefore contribute a great deal more to productivity.
But Baxter works 24/7 and doesn't take breaks.
Shabs42
5 / 5 (1) Sep 18, 2012
Humans can move much faster, and therefore contribute a great deal more to productivity.
But Baxter works 24/7 and doesn't take breaks.


Humans also don't get software updates, they have to go through expensive and/or time consuming training to learn new tasks. Also, each generation of humans is basically the same as the one before. It's reasonable to expect these robots to be faster, cheaper, and more capable every few years. Or more expensive with much greater benefits to capability, reliability, or speed.
lengould100
not rated yet Sep 19, 2012
The Unions will be pissed about this. They don't slack off, slow down, join unions or down tools to attend unions meetings!

So what. Are you a factory owner? More likely a dumb kid whose never worked a day in your life, or aquired the sense to understand why unions exist.
lengould100
not rated yet Sep 19, 2012
Does it really matter if robots put people out of jobs? So long as the economy is productive and we can distribute the resources people need to survive, they won't HAVE to work to survive.

Automation could free humankind up to pursue their personal goals.


Agreed, IF your "we can distribute the resources people need to survive" actually happens. Only government would have capability and legitimacy to do that. But present trends do not bode well, eg. tea party would all freak out and have aneurisms lol.

We at least in OECD countries already produce, or have the capacity to produce, more basic necessities than every member of our populations require for a decent healthy comfortable lifestyle, yet many freeze and starve.
lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2012
We should learn to be, or at least value, thinkers and philosophers as much as teenage singers and ball players.
alfie_null
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2012
Automation could free humankind up to pursue their personal goals.

It would be naive to expect this to be the result. We benefit increasingly from automation. However, members of our society who don't contribute much to the economy don't have much freedom to pursue their personal goals.

Would you propose some sort of welfare/income redistribution system, or do you expect the economy to morph, to absorb members affected by automation, in some other to-be-determined sector not affected by automation. We can't all be e.g., scientists and engineers. Our freedom w.r.t. economics depends largely on how valuable we are to society.
Egleton
3 / 5 (4) Sep 19, 2012
I don't want the job. I want the money. The robot can have the job, just give me the money.
People confuse the job with the money. Which is natural. We have always had to work for the money.
But if a machine is going to take my job, I still want the money.
If you don't give it to me I will be very naughty. I wont vote for you.
Give all jobs to robots. Let robots make robots.
antialias_physorg
2.8 / 5 (4) Sep 19, 2012
People confuse the job with the money.

Not always. Sometimes the job is the important part and not the money (at least beyond a certain point).

Granted, an assembly line job is pobably not the non-plus-ultra in job/life-satisfaction. But there is a significant percentage of people who do not work at all (for whatever reason) that develop a depression because they don't feel needed.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2012
I've been seeing you humans edging toward redundancy for so long now, it's a wonder any of you still have jobs. What do you see in store for your future, humans?
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2012
I've been seeing you humans edging toward redundancy for so long...

Well, you should know best...after all: you have been redundant to this planet forever.
Skepticus
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2012
The Unions will be pissed about this. They don't slack off, slow down, join unions or down tools to attend unions meetings!

So what. Are you a factory owner? More likely a dumb kid whose never worked a day in your life, or aquired the sense to understand why unions exist.

The only things i can say is as a palm/face/whatever reader, you are destined for perpetual unemployment. You have 50/50 chance of getting it right, and you still blew it. Going beyond tea leaves or whatever, if you have bothered to read a few of the subject's posts, you will have a pretty good idea before shooting without aim like someone who is in the news these days?
Skepticus
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 19, 2012
It would be many comments to be quoted, but I honestly say the trouble is: Automation increase does NOT translate to benefits of lesser work for equal pay( or more) or ordinary workers. All the profits/benefits currently are channeled to the bosses/shareholders accounts. The bosses/shareholders are getting richer from automation, all the (redundant) workers get are dismissal notices.
RobL
not rated yet Sep 19, 2012
The article claims that Baxter can adapt to the speed of the conveyor. I did not see an example of this ability to outperform a human on a fast moving conveyor belt in the video. On the contrary, Baxter was much to slow to merit application in a real industrial environment. Humans can move much faster, and therefore contribute a great deal more to productivity.


Humans need to sleep,eat, and take breaks.baxter does not. Tortious beat the Rabbit.
RobL
1 / 5 (1) Sep 19, 2012
The article claims that Baxter can adapt to the speed of the conveyor. I did not see an example of this ability to outperform a human on a fast moving conveyor belt in the video. On the contrary, Baxter was much to slow to merit application in a real industrial environment. Humans can move much faster, and therefore contribute a great deal more to productivity.


Humans need to sleep,eat and take breaks. Baxter does not. Tortious beat the Rabbit.
Scottingham
1 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2012
Yet more evidence that we as a global society need to move to a basic income. Everybody should get the equiv of 30-40k dollars. You can certainly make more if you wish, but you'd never be without good food, shelter, education, etc. The world would be a much more stable place.

Now that resource production is becoming cheap as the price of labor is approaching zero the cost of energy is the limiting factor in achieving this goal realistically. Fission/Fusion is the only tech with the ability to scale up to the levels necessary to pull the world's billions out of poverty.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2012
..the cost of energy is the limiting factor in achieving this goal realistically..
Only if it will get decentralized, as the cold fusion allows. But I'm skeptical to every form of communism - no matter how well minded or rationally it may sound for someone. The people have pilling of power and property hardwired in their genes.
Thomas_Langley
1 / 5 (1) Sep 24, 2012
Businesses like automation because it saves labor cost including wages, taxes, insurance particularly when Obamacare kicks in, & no worries about Monday morning hangover calling in sick. I think this will really create a revolution when cheaper robots (Baxter 2?) when the grippers are replaced by human type hands because many assembly lines & other production are geared for tasks to be performed by human hands (for example at one factory I used to work at a person had to make sure that the caps on liquid detergents were tightened just right) or by tools that are used by human hands. Dextrous robot hands with opposable fingers that can be strong or nimble as needed will really revolutionize manufacturing in my opinion.

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