It's assumed that one day factory line robots will eventually take over all aspects of manufacturing, freeing humans from the monotony of repetitive tasks. But integrating a robot into an assembly line is incredibly expensive and complicated. Rethink Robotics hopes to eliminate those roadblocks with Baxter.
Baxter is still the price of a small car at $US22,000, but when you consider that your typical factory line automaton can run well north of $US100,000, it means that many small-time guys now have the opportunity to automate part of their businesses. And let's not forget that Baxter actually comes with two usable arms — not just one — that are both articulated with compliant joints so that it's safe for use alongside humans.
But price and safety aren't the most revolutionary aspects of Baxter. In a typical factory environment, programming a robot arm to perform a specific task requires a team of software developers and engineers, which adds considerably to the bottom line. Baxter can be trained to perform a task by simply manually moving its arms through the required motions. As a result, it might not be precise enough for extremely accurate tasks, such as soldering circuit boards, but it potentially means that anyone can teach the robot to perform a specific task.
That feature alone has the potential to revolutionise a small business. And while Baxter has only just been revealed, it will actually start shipping in just a few weeks. So it's not just some pie-in-the-sky concept that may never see the light of day.