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AI Robotics China

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

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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  • 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.

  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Interesting)

    by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:33AM (#41374079)
    In my opinion the biggest issue with those type of jobs (Fixing other people's stuff) is that it is utterly lonely. I worked as a printer engineer for 6 months, and during that time had nobody to talk to all day long. All you get is "This is broken. Fix it." or if you're lucky you'll get offered a coffee. Worse is that everyone around you has workplace banter, water-cooler chat, even talking about work over the cubicle wall, any human interaction, while you're there with your face in a printer / washing machine / A/C unit, looked upon like a Health and Safety hazard at best.

    It takes a special kind of personality to work by yourself day in, day out, with never a familiar face to greet you. I can't do it.
  • 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
  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:51AM (#41374245)
    Well, I hate to say it, but a good deal of that is probably your fault as well. I paid the bills in college as a projector/AV tech, and only rarely felt excluded or extraneous in the room. Rather than giving me nobody to chat with, it gave me everyone to chat with. I'd compare it to being a barber or a bartender, hearing everyone's gossip and stories.
  • Re:Slow Movement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by weiserfireman ( 917228 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @11:10AM (#41374481) Homepage

    I work in a CNC Machine Shop. A robot like this would be great for unloading and reloading the Lathes for example.

    I don't need it to be incredibly fast. It takes 2 or 3 minutes to run a part anyway. I just need it to be almost as fast as a person. If I can train it to pick up a blank, load it in the lathe, unload it when the cycle is complete, and stack the parts neatly in a tray, I free up a person to go complete a setup on another lathe, troubleshoot a process, complete an SPC chart, or go home and get a good nights rest while the robot runs parts for us.

    It doesn't have to be fast, just fast enough.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,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.

  • Re:Competition (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @12:31PM (#41375547)

    There will be a chilling reverse effect on the economy, improve US manufacturing, AND drive up unemployment rates.

    This, in a nutshell, is the Lump of Labor Fallacy [wikipedia.org].

    As production costs fall, demand increases, and other areas of the economy expand. This happened when agriculture was invented, again when agriculture was mechanized, again with the industrial revolution, again with electrification and computerized automation. All of these led to higher standards of living (the opposite of what your theory predicts). 80% of our economy is already services, so lower production costs of goods will not have as much impact as in the past, but that impact will almost certainly be positive.

If you suspect a man, don't employ him.