by Jeff and Jenn Eckert
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New Era in Manufacturing?
Whenever a new product is described as "revolutionary" and
"ushering in a new era," the rational response lies somewhere
between skepticism and hysterical laughter. Nevertheless, Rethink
Robotics ( www.rethinkrobotics.com) has introduced Baxter the
bot with those terms attached. Given that he is the contrivance of
Rodney Brooks — cofounder of iRobot and former director of the
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab — laughter may
not be the appropriate option. The Baxter product line is said to
offer the "world's first humanoid robots capable of applying common
sense behavior to manufacturing environments," which would indeed
be revolutionary. The overall objective is to offer US manufacturers a
means to compete with competitors in low cost regions of the world
which just might qualify as the beginning of a new era.
According to Brooks, "Roboticists have been successful in
designing robots capable of superhuman speed and precision.
What's proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we
do — in other words, that are able to inherently understand and
adapt to their environments."
For example, if Baxter drops a component, he's smart enough to
grab another one before trying to complete the job. Other definitive
characteristics include the ability to work safely alongside humans,
the ability to be set up in an hour and trained in as little as 30
minutes, extreme task flexibility, and a price tag of only $22,000.
If you happen to be in Chicago January 21-24, you can see him
in person at the Automate show. He'll also be in Orlando February
20-23 at the RIA Robotics Industry Forum. Or, you can just search
"rethink baxter" on You Tube and see a video.
Baxter: Flexible, cheap, and easy to train.
Keep Your Mind (and Hands) Out of the Gutter
iRobot's Looj 300 automates gutter cleaning.
A different sort of animal is the new Looj 330 from iRobot
( www.irobot.com). It isn't cute, isn't flexible, and has no
common sense. However, it can save you the trouble and danger
of cleaning your rain gutters. You just drop it in and a four-stage
auger spins at 500 rpm to blast away clogged leaves and dirt.
The Looj automatically senses and adapts to the nature of
the debris for more effective cleaning, and it features
interchangeable auger flaps for enhanced performance. The
remote control (which is also the carrying handle when attached)
works from up to 50 ft away, and Looj can change its scrub
speed to adjust for tough clogs.
The most obvious shortcomings are that it's not exactly a
speed demon — taking an average of five minutes to clear a 30
foot section — and you can expect to clean only about 200 linear
feet on a charge of the 7.2V lithium-ion battery. It is waterproof,
though and can even operate in up to eight inches of water. The
Looj will set you back $299, but that's a lot cheaper than setting
a broken leg.
8 SERVO 12.2012