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AI Robotics China

Meet iRobot Founder Rodney Brooks's New Industrial Bot, Baxter 188

Posted by timothy
from the only-knows-one-song dept.
First time accepted submitter moon_unit2 writes "Technology Review has the scoop on a new industrial robot created by famed robotics researcher Rodney Brooks. The robot, Baxter, is completely safe, extremely adaptable, and ridiculously easy to program. By providing a way to automate simple manufacturing work, it could help make U.S. manufacturers compete with Chinese companies that rely on low-cost human labor. You can see the new robot in action in a related video of the robot in action and Brooks discussing its potential." $22 thousand and shipping next month, goes the story.
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Meet iRobot Founder Rodney Brooks's New Industrial Bot, Baxter

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  • Fawning Rubbish (Score:3, Informative)

    by skywire (469351) * on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:12AM (#41373869)

    The robot, Baxter, is completely safe

  • I wonder (Score:3, Funny)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:20AM (#41373941)
    I wonder if this Baxter will survive being dropkicked into the river by Jack Black
  • I wonder if they build Baxter's firmware with Jenkins.

  • While these are only prototypes they seem to be very slow and utilize the simplest of end effectors ("hands"). What they are working on seems better suited to household use, as in helping the elderly or disabled with basic domestic tasks.
  • I've read like what, 3 or 4 iRobot related post in the past week. What the deuce?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:30AM (#41374049)

    Don't know why it's not on the front page yet, but Dice (the job board guys?) bought slashdot and sourceforge this morning.

    And before asshole moderators mod this down, know that Dice knows where you live and where you work. +5 informative this comment if you know what's good for you.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by onyxruby (118189)

      Anonymous Coward is right. Dice [webpronews.com] did buy them out for $20 million.

    • This post was at +2 only some time after the front page story of Slashdot being bought by dice.

      With that on the front page why mod up this post? it became somewhat humorous but kind of irrelevant after that point.

  • by v1 (525388) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:31AM (#41374061) Homepage Journal

    I wish they had showed some practical application. Moving an air hockey paddle two feet to the right isn't extremely practical. Show me it loading a dozen donuts into a donut box or something.

    Sensors. Yes it has force sensors but anything else? He was having to carefully position the paddles for pickup. He talked about previous robots being "blind". But is this robot really not blind? Blind people have a sense of touch, why isn't this robot "blind"? Show me it can adapt a little using sight or ultrasound or something.

    Slow. Wow. Ten seconds to move the paddle. Traditional industrial robots would do ten paddles in ten seconds. Sure they're not safe to be around running at those speeds, but this is completely at the other wrong end of the speed scale. Nobody's going to use a robot that moves like a retarded sloth. I do hope the speed can be cranked up?

    I would like to have seen a very brief runthrough of the training process. Telling me ten times that it's "easy" without showing me it even once leaves me suspicious of your definition of "easy". (and of "simple")

    Someone setting their hand under an object being set down really isn't a practical example of collision behavior on the manufacturing floor. Stick your head out in front of the arm's path and show me how it reacts. Does it knock you off your feet, or maybe shove you slowly to the side? Does it stop immediately and drop that fragile widget a foot down onto the bench? This demo wasn't nearly as informative as I was hoping it would be.

    But I do like the "move the arms" training method. I'd put a little time into pondering how to train manufacturing robots in the past, and I was always wondering why they didn't use that approach, at least to rough out the behavior, and use an interface to tweak the positioning and timing etc. But afaik all the programming on other industrial robots to date has been purely through the console. Even if you don't eliminate the programmers or computer techs, at least being able to get a good floor worker to flesh out the robot's basic movements will save a lot of time. And if you involve them more, they can help in optimizing the behavior too I think.

    • by PRMan (959735)
      Actually, watch the video again. You'll see at one point that he puts his head in the way of the arm and it stops immediately.
    • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a hoo.com> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:46AM (#41374909) Homepage Journal

      Clearly you aren't in the industry... or any industry where this would be used.
      Frankly, it's a huge deal. It isn't slow compared to human labor. When you factor in 24/7 operation, no breaks, and predictibal turn over.
      It's also cheap, so get 2.
      In warehouse and logistics, there is a need for something to sort bins, and there are case where this would work far better then people. Those are often uses where you can't be moving at a high rate of speed because you will damage the goods.

      • When you factor in 24/7 operation, no breaks, and predictibal turn over.

        There are other advantages as well: You don't have to heat or cool the building. Robots can use spot lighting or run in the dark, so you don't need to light up the whole factory. You don't need managers and supervisors. You don't need restrooms, break rooms, and cafeterias. You don't need an HR department.

        Robots produce much more consistent results. They were adopted first in jobs like painting and welding, where consistency is very important.

        If it takes an hour to train a human on a new task, it may

    • But I do like the "move the arms" training method. I'd put a little time into pondering how to train manufacturing robots in the past, and I was always wondering why they didn't use that approach, at least to rough out the behavior, and use an interface to tweak the positioning and timing etc. But afaik all the programming on other industrial robots to date has been purely through the console.

      Because they *have* perfected LawyerBots. The first time someone gets converted into a human sandwich spread while '

  • thoughts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vladilinsky (1071536) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:36AM (#41374107)
    In one of my manufacturing process classed, the prof claimed he had done a lot of work for major companies off-shoring production. He then went on to explain that they saved very little money on the cheap offshore labour. (cheap labour + long shipping = aprox same as labour here) The big savings were gained from having no or very poor environmental laws.
    With that in mind I do not see this bringing much manufacturing back to North America or Europe. Plus if it was an advantage the cheap labour markets would just by the robots anyway.

    The way to get manufacturing back here in my opinion, is to make a products store front cost true to what the real cost is. Ie sum of parts + labour + the cost of dealing with the waste.

    I still want a baxter to play with though
    • "The way to get manufacturing back here in my opinion, is to make a products store front cost true to what the real cost is. Ie sum of parts + labour + the cost of dealing with the waste."

      I suppose we could also take the cynical approach of attempting to lower the cost of shipping vile industrial pollutants to some country that can't do much about it...

    • by geekoid (135745)

      The best way it to impose high tariffs on any product coming form a country that doesn't mean out federal environment, safety and pay standards.

      • I would love to do that, but I think that, that is, or will be Illegal under the tpp and nafta. Also can you think of a faster way to get voted out of office than to be the person who caused all of our cheap consumer goods to double in price? Not saying I don't think it should happen; just it would be tricky.
      • by TheSync (5291)

        The best way it to impose high tariffs on any product coming form a country that doesn't mean out federal environment, safety and pay standards.

        The US has the weakest regulations on firing employees in the world (including most developing nations), and of course our mandatory vacation time is much lower than Western Europe, so I guess by your calculus the world should impose high tariffs on us!

    • by fikx (704101)
      well, robots don't need all the safety and environmental conditions humans do, so cheaper, right?
      (joking BTW)
  • by PPH (736903)

    The force sensing safety is an interesting improvement. I can see a few applications of robots working alongside humans on assembly lines (fetching parts and handing them over, etc.). But currently, its not safe to hand humans work near industrial robots.

    There may be limitations to this. I'd like a robot to pick up an engine block so a worker can install some parts. But the forces involved in lifting two or three hundred pounds would put potentially fatal human contact forces down in the noise level.

    • by RobinH (124750)

      Existing industrial robots have collision detection, but more for running into big heavy things like machines, not squishy things like people. The fact is that an industrial robot can move *really* fast, and the Baxter robot in this video moves *really* slow. So if an industrial robot cell is about 6 times more expensive, but it can do 10 times the throughput (I think that's conservative from what I saw in that video) then you'd go with the traditional industrial robot in a cage.

      Where Baxter might shine i

  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:04AM (#41374405) Homepage

    Yes, its slow (~4-6 pick & place operations per arm per minute), and not very strong (5 lbs max weight) in the current form. These restrictions are probably semi-arbitrary in the name of safety. But thats still enough to be an incredibly big deal in a large number of manufacturing tasks. Also important, its transportable (the base is on wheels), and flexible in learning new tasks, so it doesn't have to do just one thing but starts to approach the flexibility of a minimum wage worker. And for that role, it needs to be safe more than it needs to be quick.

    Lets say it can perform task X at 1/4 the rate of a manufacturing worker. But at $8/hr minimum wage + 20% in additional costs/worker-hour, say $10/hr for a minimum wage worker. So that value is at least $2.50/hr.

    So it pays for itself in 1100 worker-days, compared with a minimum wage worker and only 1 shift a day. At 3 shifts/day, payback is in 1 year!

    Slow is NOT a problem when it is that cheap, that flexible and that safe.

  • "it could help make U.S. manufacturers compete with Chinese companies " ...until he starts selling them to China, makes his fortune, and retires like a proper wealthy capitalist.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      They'll have to remove the safety features before selling them to China. Don't want the Meat Units getting complacent.
  • by koan (80826)

    Interesting stuff, but I'm always left with the same question when I see robots advanced and possibly some form of AI.

    "What are we going to do with all these humans?"

  • by geekoid (135745)

    Having manufacturing move back to the US because it's completely robotic doesn't exactly help, at ll. You bring in all the waste with none of the jobs.
    Of course, the US should start preparing for the completely robotic workforce,. It will happen.
    And no, there is no a one for one replacement in jobs, its closer to every 100 job displaced by automation, 1 job is created.

    • by Githaron (2462596)
      Whenever technology satisfies old demands, humanity tends to create new demands. Do you really think that people would be thinking about the latest smartphone, the new movie coming out, or a new social networking site if they had to spend almost all their waking hours farming in order to feed and clothe themselves? With every major change, stress is placed on society but eventually we adapt out of necessity. Like the wheel, society advances in cycles.
  • I've used these in the past. They are a pick and place robot with a vision system and conveyor system. You can throw a bucket of parts on the conveyor and it will find and pick the ones you need.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FPSF1KIDnw [youtube.com]

  • pre-history of the Great Labor Crash [facebook.com]

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