Robotics

Rethink Robotics lets industrial robots work alongside people

Rethink Robotics lets industri...
The Robot Positioning System allows the Baxter robot to work in a human/robot mixed environment
The Robot Positioning System allows the Baxter robot to work in a human/robot mixed environment
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The Baxter robot has the ability to learn new tasks without coding
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The Baxter robot has the ability to learn new tasks without coding
The Robot Positioning System is part of Rethink's software upgrad
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The Robot Positioning System is part of Rethink's software upgrad
Baxter is a general purpose robot
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Baxter is a general purpose robot
Baxter is designed to work safely around humans
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Baxter is designed to work safely around humans
The Robot Positioning System allows robots to be moved from job to job easily
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The Robot Positioning System allows robots to be moved from job to job easily
The Robot Positioning System relies on Landmark markers
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The Robot Positioning System relies on Landmark markers
Baxter zeroing in on a Landmark
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Baxter zeroing in on a Landmark
The Landmarks allow Baxter to adjust to accidental shifts in position.
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The Landmarks allow Baxter to adjust to accidental shifts in position.
The Robot Positioning System allows the Baxter robot to work in a human/robot mixed environment
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The Robot Positioning System allows the Baxter robot to work in a human/robot mixed environment
View gallery - 9 images

The robotic revolution is very often less about replacing human workers than finding ways of working alongside them. That means being as flexible at doing tasks as humans, as well as being able to work with all the jostling and chaos that people take for granted. Rethink Robotics’ new Robot Positioning System lets the Baxter robot do factory work without being bolted to the floor, adjusting itself as it endures random bumps.

Robots love order. They work best when their environment is predictable. When it comes to manufacturing robots, they also work best, and are safest to be around, when they’re bolted down and surrounded by cages that keep out the unwary. For over half a century, that’s worked, but it also negates many of the strengths of robots by cutting them off from human workers and keeping them stuck in place like some kind of over-elaborate machine lathe. Rethink’s Robot Positioning System aims at mixing robots and people by making robots more flexible, better able to shift from job to job, and handle the occasional bump and jostle.

The Robot Positioning System is part of the Intera 3.1 Rethink software upgrade and is designed to work with the Baxter general purpose robot; an inexpensive industrial robot that’s capable of learning new tasks by being guided by a human operator without the need for special coding or control systems, and has multiple sensors and safety systems that allow it to operate around humans.

The Robot Positioning System allows robots to be moved from job to job easily
The Robot Positioning System allows robots to be moved from job to job easily

The Robot Positioning System’s purpose is to make industrial robots more mobile; not in the sense of moving about the floor under their own power, but in the sense of making them easy to shift from one task to another without having to re-tool the entire line. Using Baxter’s learning ability, it can be taken from one job, moved to another station, and taught to carry out its new task.

The clever bit is that the Robot Positioning System comes with sets of markers called “Landmarks.” These are code-marked cards that tell the robot where it’s supposed to be in relation to its work station. The Landmarks allow Baxter to use its vision system to figure out where it’s supposed to be. If it gets bumped or otherwise moved, the positioning system allows the robot to take the shift into account by adjusting its movements. In addition, the system makes it easier for operators to quickly move Baxter back into position if it gets shifted too far, or to set it up at multiple stations, taking into account up to 20 Landmarks

"Manufacturing robots have always been caged, not only to protect the workers around them from harm, but also to protect their precisely configured environments from being disrupted by those same workers," says Scott Eckert, CEO at Rethink Robotics. "With Baxter, we brought the manufacturing robot out of its cage by making it safe enough to work next to people; and now, we've made it safe for the robot to work effectively in real-world conditions as well, by allowing it to adapt to everyday variations that people naturally produce."

The video below shows the Robot Positioning System in action.

Source: Rethink Robotics

Flexible and easily redeployed with the Robot Positioning System

View gallery - 9 images
4 comments
zevulon
the encouraging thing here is seeing continuous iterations and improvements in baxter.
while i have been impressed ever since reading about baxter over 3 years ago, i must say the current financial climate, the cheap prices of STUPID factory robots with paying engineers to adjust them and cheap laborers to pick up the slack------combined with the anticipation by factory robot purchasers coming wave of neurmorphic 'pattern learning' chips -----will render much of the current software enabled learning of baxter currently unattractive for purchase.
baxter is still in iterative mode, and even a few new hardware chips may yet be added to it to reach its eventual 'plateau' of capabilities as an all purpose robot that might dominate not only factories, but be marketable as the kind of george jetsons' futurisitic house cleaning robot . perhaps they will even rename her 'rosie' for this market.
Sean Dotson
While the concept is great there are MUCH more agile, faster and accurate collaborative robots in the market. UR is one such example.
As an automation provider we'd never consider these robots. They are not built for the rigors of 24/7 automation.
Besides the automation shown in that video could have been done for 1/10 of the price with pneumatic cylinders and some Lexan guarding.
Rethink Robotics has an amazing PR and marketing department however. Every few weeks I see a new article on this "robot".
DonGateley
Having seen what a glitch in a robot arm can do to a human head there is no way in hell I would get in range of one. There is no such thing as a perfectly safe machine and something with a random reach is to be totally avoided.
Mel Tisdale
@ DonGateley
From my experience of industrial robots I have to agree with your concerns. And, like you, I would never get within striking distance of any robot. I have seen more than enough of 'who would have thought it' situations to know better.
That said, over and above such concerns is the discussion society needs to have regarding where the workers these robots displace find jobs. We will be asking for trouble if we force society to split into a small managerial elite and a mass of human drones doing menial tasks for peanuts in reward.
Perhaps the only really rewarding and safe jobs will soon only be found in areas that cannot be roboticized, such as science and engineering. But such work is hardly going to suit someone such as a machinist whose skills are no longer required in a world dominated by automated machine tools.
No matter how inventive one sees oneself sometimes it is difficult not to have sympathy for the Luddites and their motives.