Imagining robots taking over the most human tasks may seem to be a vision only fit for a Hollywood screenplay, but the Boston-based company Rethink Robotics is rendering the inadequacy of our imagination all too real.
Rethink Robotics created Baxter, an industrial robot that depicts remarkable common sense, and can expand its capabilities with time. It contains sensors, cameras, and software that allow it to see objects, understand responsibilities and feel forces.
The $25,000 robot can be placed safely into a human work environment and trained by a non-technical individual to perform repetitive tasks. Baxter recently performed 2,160 straight hours of tasks in an injection molding factory, picking plastics, placing them in empty boxes and using inserts to separate them, then counting the items to recheck the quantity.
On the human side, these tasks require 6 employees (2 on either shift) and workers are required to wear masks because of debris and dust. The work is mundane and sometimes unhygienic, but Baxter doesn’t complain. It’s simple, radical, and great for saving time and money.
Parts used in Baxter
Baxter has a head in the form of a computer screen; featuring eyebrows, expressions, and animated eyes to covey messages to nearby workers. Essentially, it uses eyes and eyebrows to depict most of its behavior; eyes wide open and eyebrows down to the center shows it is performing the task at hand without any problems, for example.
Baxter has two arms, both with seven degrees of freedom offering a reach similar to that of a factory worker. It is designed to take over the mundane tasks that workers hate to perform because they find them, well, robotic. Baxter might not be speedy or precise as real workers, but performs well when it comes to picking up items and placing them while adapting to workplace changes, like sudden changes in speed on a timing belt in a factory.
Parts such as servo’s (with output shaft) make sure such robotic arms can be positioned to specific positions by sending a coded signal to the motor. Changes in coded signal lead to changes in the angular position of the shaft, making arms of robots like Baxter compliant (they can sense and adjust to obstacles).
The compliance is made possible by servo repairers like A-1 Servo Motor Repair. Such resources offer suggestions to increase the servo’s mean-time upon isolation of recurring faults, and alter servo motors to meet specific needs of a company, such as pickup and placing of objects via the arms of a robot.
Other parts used in Baxter include sonar sensor and cameras for feeling and seeing things in the surrounding areas. But Baxter does not have legs, so it can’t walk on its own. It has to be mounted to a spot, or rolled wherever it’s required.
How Baxter is different
Baxter is smarter than the average robot and no custom application code is needed to operate it. Baxter can be taught through manipulation of its arms and through its graphical user interface. That means non-technical workers can train it right on the line.
Also, Baxter adopts a platform-based approach leveraged by mobile devices and personal computers. Its OS and software can be enhanced through software updates to expand capabilities of performing tasks. This robot makes switching from task to task fast and convenient, and it stores over 100 tasks in its database.
All these and other features are making Baxter a strong force in manufacturing industries. It was introduced in April 2013 in the US, but has recently started making its way to other parts of the world.
Do you think robots like Baxter have potential in the manufacturing industry?