As robotic technology becomes a staple in the manufacturing industry, many workers fear that they could lose their jobs to machines. Luckily, Rodney Brooks, the Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus) at MIT, invented a new robot that would work side-by-side with factory workers, instead of replacing them.
According to NPR, the name of Rodney Brooks’ robot is Baxter. It is described as a collaborative manufacturing robot from Rethink Robotics in Boston, Massachusetts. Baxter can work with human workers to do simple, repetitive tasks like working on an assembly line. It would be relatively inexpensive for factory owners, as each Baxter unit costs $22,000 per model.
Programming Baxter is easier than you’d expect. You don’t need to have advanced knowledge of computer science to teach Baxter what to do; you simply show the robot how to do it. Baxter uses physical training to “learn” how to do simple tasks over and over again, such as taking an object out of a box and placing it on a conveyor belt. Since Baxter is extremely versatile, it can be trained to do virtually anything in a manufacturing facility.
For those who fear they would be replaced by robots like Baxter, Rodney Brooks — who is also the inventor of the Roomba, the robotic vacuum — suggests that Baxter was not made to replace human productivity, but rather to enhance it. Baxter cannot do things like provide quality assurance or assemble a small product; those tasks are still better suited to humans. Brooks invented Baxter to do mundane tasks, where humans and robots can work together.
Rodney Brooks also suggests Baxter is not just limited to factory work. He would like to see Baxter become caregivers in hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly. Check out Baxter’s product video from Rethink Robotics below: