It was in 2012 that we first heard about Rethink Robotics' Baxter, a kind of cute-looking industrial robot that could reportedly be trained to perform tasks by regular people. Although it looked like it might be "the future of robotics," this Wednesday the company announced that it was shutting down.
Baxter's big claim to fame was that instead of users having to write complicated code in order to tell it what to do, they could simply grab its two arms and physically guide them through the required motions. Apparently just about anyone could do it, including factory workers with minimal training.
It also utilized a suite of integrated sensors to "understand" its surroundings, safely slowing its actions when humans entered its workspace, and ceasing its movements entirely should it accidentally make contact with a person. Additionally, at a base price of US$22,000, it was considerably less expensive than a typical industrial robot – this could open up robotic manufacturing to companies that previously couldn't afford it.
In 2016, Boston-based Rethink Robotics announced another model, the one-armed Sawyer robot (pictured below). While possessing most of the same attributes as Baxter, it was more compact and agile.
Unfortunately, though, just not enough companies were buying the things. The decision was thus made to cease operations, effective Oct. 3rd. Chief Operating Officer Jim Lawton has provided us with following statement:
We were early to market with a very innovative product that was ahead of its time, and unfortunately, we did not achieve the commercial success we had expected. A planned acquisition of the company fell through at the last moment. All of Rethink Robotics' employees are being actively recruited for roles in other robotics firms.
Since its founding in 2008, Rethink Robotics was a pioneer in the industry and has been recognized for creating the entirely new category of collaborative robots. We changed the way the world thinks about automation by designing robots that can safely be used near people, can sense their surroundings, and are able to perform tasks for which traditional robots were never a good fit. We remain excited about the future of collaborative robots and are pleased to see other providers incorporating our ideas into their automation solutions.
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