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Sunday December 21st 2014

Rethink Robotics’ Baxter Robot Leverages Open Source





For more than a decade, some of the more interesting work in the field of robotics has been driven by open source efforts. As we’ve noted, there is now even an Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF). While companies such as Willow Garage have grabbed most of the headlines on the open source robotics front, a new one is generating buzz: Rethink Robotics. It’s the brainchild of noted roboticist Rodney Brooks.

Rethink Robotics will ship its first $22,000 robot in October, based on several open source software platforms, including the Robot Operating System, or ROS, developed by Willow Garage, and OpenCV, or Open Source Computer Vision Library.  The robot is called Baxter. 

As noted by The New York Times:

"Baxter will come equipped with a library of simple tasks, or behaviors — for example, a ‘common sense’ capability to recognize it must have an object in its hand before it can move and release it."

"Although it will be possible to program Baxter, the Rethink designers avoid the term. Instead they talk about ‘training by demonstration.’ For example, to pick up an object and move it, a human will instruct the robot by physically moving its arm and making it grab the object."

"The robot’s redundant layers of safety mechanisms include a crown of sonar sensors ringing its head that automatically slows its movements whenever a human approaches. Its computer-screen face turns red to let workers know that it is aware of their presence."

While $22,000 may seem like a lot for a robot, Willow Garage’s flagship robots actually sell for more. Baxter will be a true success, though, if it can appeal to tinkerers and hobbyists who might extend it as a platform. The Open Source Robotics Foundation is trying to boost these types of collaborative effortds around the world. 

According to Rethink Robotics’ site, Baxter will be aimed mostly at manufacturing tasks to begin with, but its appeal may extend beyond these applications. Look for more news on Baxter upon its debut in October.

 

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