Rodney Brooks, founder and CTO of Rethink Robotics, revealed a number of surprising things when Evan and I visited the company last year, just before it unveiled its Baxter industrial robot to the world. There was the robot itself, of course, designed to be safe, versatile, easy to program, and incredibly inexpensive-the opposite of what traditional industrial robots are. Its humanoid features were also a bit unexpected-a factory robot with a friendly face!
But another thing that surprised us was the company's emphasis on software. Rethink doesn't want to be just a robot maker. It wants Baxter to be a platform that anyone can use to improve on existing applications as well as develop completely new ones. To achieve that, Rethink needs to open up its technology, and last week the company announced a major step in that direction: a version of Baxter designed for researchers.
Sure, Baxter's primary target is still industrial applications. But Rethink knows that, by enlisting the help of the robotics community to push the envelope of what its robot can do, it would have a major advantage over other robots. When Evan and I asked Brooks what he expected other roboticists would do with Baxter, he said he had no idea, and that was a good thing. Brooks recently said he hopes researchers and others will "use their creativity and programming skills to create never before seen applications."
So first let's see what Rethink is offering with its Baxter Research Robot. The hardware is exactly the same as the previous Baxter model. The robot has two 7-DOF arms, powered by series elastic actuators. It has integrated cameras, sonar, and torque sensors on every joint. The base price is also the same: US $22,000. So what's different? Software. The research model does't come with the manufacturing software installed, but rather runs the research software development kit (SDK).
David Fuller's view This field is in its infancy but is likely to grow exponentially. To see some of the products and experiments, scroll down the article and click on the many links to the right.Back to top