Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rethink Robotics Inc. Introduces Baxter

            Baxter, Rethink Robotics Inc.’s most recent invention, is a small, two armed robot built to lift and sort objects between 5 and 10 pounds.  This robot is less expensive than most robots because it was created for small to medium sized manufacturers, where it can work alongside the conveyer belt with humans without conflicting with them.  Baxter eliminates the need for technicians because most workers can learn how to operate this robot within a half hour. (Hagerty)  Its basic functions are preprogrammed, however workers can also teach Baxter how to perform new tasks and receive feedback on whether or not it comprehends from the robot itself.   
I believe that Baxter would be a wise investment for smaller businesses which can’t afford the bigger, more efficient robots that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Baxter is priced around $22,000, which allows smaller manufacturers to experience some of the benefits of a robot without the high cost like before. (Hagerty)  However, I do not believe that medium to large sized manufacturers should waste their time or money on this robot.  The goal of every business is to continue to grow and become more prosperous.  Larger companies would need many of these robots to complete their sized jobs.  For every small Baxter robot these companies buy, they could have pooled their money together and invested in one of the bigger and more expensive robots. Although Baxter can be taught new tasks, it is mainly geared towards lifting, loading and sorting. 
The bigger robots give businesses more for their money by being able to perform a variety of tasks.  An example of this can be seen in Yaskawa’s Motoman robot, Baxter’s competitor, that can lift heavier objects and weld, assemble, coat, dispense, cut, package, polish, and sand all different types of material. (“Yaskawa Motoman Robotics”)  Motoman also has two arms and is designed for multiple jobs.  For instance, one Motoman was designed to be a smaller model, like Baxter, and was used to deal a game of Blackjack. (Hagerty)  Motoman, like many other expensive robots, is worth investing in more than Baxter if the business has the funds because Yaskawa has more models and options to be used in many different parts of manufacturing instead of Baxter’s few specialized tasks.
When focusing on small businesses, I believe that Baxter could be a successful innovation to increase productivity along the assembly line.  However, when looking at manufacturing as a whole, I think Baxter requires more development to compete with the more advanced robots that are already on the market.  “David Bourne, a robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh described it as a ‘work in progress’ and said most manufacturers would want faster and stronger robots.” (Hagerty)  I agree with this statement because companies are always looking for the next best thing, from which they can get the most out of, to improve their company.

                                             Here is a video that shows how Baxter works.


  1. When I think about Baxter, the first thing that comes to mind is the unemployment rate. I know it is important to keep up with technology, but I think it has gone too far when it takes the place of natural human ability. The unemployment rate is about 8.3%, which is a huge improvement from 2009 when it reached nearly 10%. In order for the economy to keep improving more people need to become employed. It becomes more difficult to find a job when you are competing with a robot.

    The $22,000 it costs to buy a Baxter robot, could be the income a family needs to get off the streets and live a comfortable life. The problem with robots is that even though they are efficient, they do not improve. They were made the way they were made and that’s it. They can malfunction and have technical difficulties. People on the other hand can work hard and improve their skills.

    According to the blog, there are larger more affective robots than the introduced Baxter. This concerns me because now human capital is even less desired. What will happen in 10 years when technology improves even more, and robots are able to run companies. An excessive amount of money is spend on a college education in order to get a job, but now some students are going to be fighting with a robot for the position.

    It seems too extreme in my opinion to have robots work in a company. Instead people should focus their efforts on more important issues, and try to help fuel the economy.

  2. It’s amazing to read articles like this and see how robots can be so life-like, and I would have to disagree and say that these robots could be a benefit to any company involved in manufacturing. I read in a Huffington Post article that these humanoid robots are easy to program and as they get more advanced we will start to see digital technology replace human labor (as it already does). In the future, I see that even large manufacturing companies will have their advanced, expensive robots assembling products, but also simple robots like Baxter that they can use to perform smaller tasks around the warehouse. Robots like Baxter will just become cheaper and cheaper as new technologies emerge, and if companies see that using these technologies will cut costs, then they will utilize these robots.

    Another important thing that I believe needs to be addressed is that while we look at robots such as Baxter in amazement, they may soon become opposed by labor unions and governments themselves. For example, the United States already faces problems with outsourcing as manufacturing is cheaper in other countries. Companies might bring their manufacturing back to the United States, but if they use robots for all of their work then outsourcing is no longer the problem but automation is. As the government is working to lower unemployment, how will they view this robotic automation in the future? It seems amazing to us now, but will we be against it once it becomes a reality and starts taking away jobs?

    All things considered, this robotic technology is on its way and won’t be going anywhere soon. It has the potential to be very beneficial not only to manufacturing companies but also help with caring for the elderly and other health fields. Doctors could use these to sort medicine, and elderly people could use this to give them quicker access to things they might need if they are not very mobile. The uses of these humanoid robots seems limitless, but only time will tell. I just hope that these technologies are used in moderation so that humans do not become obsolete in the process.


  3. Baxter is an interesting affordable new invention by Rethink Robotics Inc. This robot gives small businesses the potential to cut many costs and still do the same work. Buying this robot for twenty two thousand dollars is cheaper than paying an employee an annual salary. If this robot can do the same work that the employee was doing it is definitely worth the investment for small businesses. The buying could leave Baxter alone all day and night and he will continue to work. This will make the buyer’s purchase way worth their while. Overall, this IT innovation can cut costs by eliminating wageworkers for firms and having a steady constant employee (Baxter).
    Though this robot can be good for businesses I have some doubts about its productivity. In the video on Alyssa’s post the robot does not seem to move at all. It sits in one spot and does one task. If an item needs to be moved across the room a person or conveyer belt would have to do it. To improve Baxter in future models, I would add wheels that allow him to move. Furthermore, the arms on Baxter are very slower. It would take it longer to complete the same task a human could do because of its speed. Though a person could not work as long, they could definitely work faster. In addition, Baxter can only do one task at a time. In the video it showed someone changing the hands on Baxter so that it could do a different task. It does not seem efficient or worth it for a $20,000 machine to only be able to do one thing at a time. It should have hands that automatically change so that a person does not have to waste time changing them, and so that Baxter could do more things at once.
    Another problem with Baxter is that it requires someone who knows how to change his parts and tell him what to do. A business owner would have to be trained or train someone to use the robot. With these added costs I am unsure if the robot would even be worth the money it would save.
    To improve Baxter I would make him more flexible with task performance and I would make him mobile so that he could move around a store or warehouse.