It was three years ago that we first heard about Rethink Robotics' Baxter industrial robot. Priced at US$22,000 and requiring no programming expertise on the part of its users, it was intended to bring robotic automation to manufacturers who would otherwise not be able to afford it. Now, Rethink has announced the more compact and agile Sawyer robot.

Like Baxter, Sawyer runs on Rethink Robotics' Intera software system. Among other things, this allows it to learn tasks by having a human trainer physically guide its articulated arm through a specific activity. It can then build on what it's learned, adapting its behavior to complete the same task while compensating for changing variables.

Also like Baxter, it has built-in safety features that allow it work side-by-side with humans, instead of being sectioned off in a cage. If its arm should accidentally come into contact with a person, for instance, it will automatically stop whatever it's doing.

The actual 19-kg (42-lb) robot itself has the same animated expressive eyes as Baxter, intended to make it a little easier for its non-robotic co-workers to relate to. It also utilizes a vision system that consists of a wide-angle video camera in its head, along with a camera and light source in its wrist for getting close-up views of intricate tasks.

Its arm has a reach of just over one meter (3.3 ft), seven degrees of freedom, and can lift up to 4 kg (8.8 lb). Each of the joints on that arm contain high-resolution force sensors, which let it "feel" its way into tight spaces without wrecking anything. According to the company, "This enables an adaptive precision that is unique to the robotics industry and allows Sawyer to work effectively in semi-structured environments."

Rethink Robotics also claims that Sawyer is particularly well-suited to precise tasks such as machine tending and circuit board testing, that have previously been impractical to automate using regular industrial robots – or even a Baxter.

The company plans on an initial roll-out this summer (Northern Hemisphere) in North America, Europe, China and Japan, with prices starting at $29,000. Wider availability should follow shortly after.

Sawyer can be seen in action, in the video below.

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