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

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the only-knows-one-song dept.

AI 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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Fawning Rubbish (2, Informative)

skywire (469351) | about 2 years ago | (#41373869)

The robot, Baxter, is completely safe

Re:Fawning Rubbish (4, Funny)

decipher_saint (72686) | about 2 years ago | (#41373915)

It's rather worrying actually. It's like being reassured that there is ABSOLUTELY no poison in the coffee.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (3, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | about 2 years ago | (#41374051)

But I have built up a resistance to Iocane powder.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (3, Funny)

tedgyz (515156) | about 2 years ago | (#41374363)

Inconceivable!

Re:Fawning Rubbish (3, Insightful)

Beorytis (1014777) | about 2 years ago | (#41375163)

We never learn. We're still involved in a land war in Asia!

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41374075)

It's rather worrying actually. It's like being reassured that there is ABSOLUTELY no poison in the coffee.

Damn right, if there is absolutely no poison in there they probably have you drinking decaf!

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

gman003 (1693318) | about 2 years ago | (#41374289)

Of course there's no poison in the coffee. A real pro would put the poison on the rim of the cup.

Then again, a REAL real pro wouldn't even use poisons - too hard to make it look like an accident, and it's rather uncommon for police to hunt for an assassin when they don't think it was even a homicide.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41374349)

Of course there's no poison in the coffee. A real pro would put the poison on the rim of the cup.

Then again, a REAL real pro wouldn't even use poisons - too hard to make it look like an accident, and it's rather uncommon for police to hunt for an assassin when they don't think it was even a homicide.

Foxglove is damn near undetectable, you know...

Care for some tea? >:)

Re:Fawning Rubbish (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41374991)

"Foxglove is damn near undetectable"
did you just get here from 1950?

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41375249)

"Foxglove is damn near undetectable" did you just get here from 1950?

Yup - time traveler here. I went back so I could bang your mom, heard she was super hot back in the day.

In retrospect, I should have worn a prophylactic, and subsequently avoided this conversation.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (3, Informative)

durrr (1316311) | about 2 years ago | (#41374877)

Usually when it comes to industrial robots they'll bludgeon you to red paste if you get close to them when they're working. If all coffee by default was lethally poisonous until this one cup then the analogy would be valid, as it stands it's not.

SQUISH! (1)

seven of five (578993) | about 2 years ago | (#41375361)

"I'm so dreadfully sorry... was that your head?"

Re:Fawning Rubbish (2)

na1led (1030470) | about 2 years ago | (#41373925)

Until is gives you the evil eyes

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41374057)

The robot, Baxter, is completely safe

It's a pity, actually. There are plenty of ways to say that the robot (through a combination of physical design and active sensor systems) is designed to be safe enough to share an environment with humans, rather than being caged off with warning signs on the swing zones and big red buttons that you have to press before performing maintenance without sounding so overtly fawning about it.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (1)

pnot (96038) | about 2 years ago | (#41374397)

*shrug* Slashdot summary sucks, film at 11. RTFA instead.

Re:Fawning Rubbish (4, Funny)

Beerdood (1451859) | about 2 years ago | (#41374935)

What's that Baxter? You managed to injure 7 workers and set the factory on fire? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad, that's amazing!

Completely safe? Is that better than (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 2 years ago | (#41375259)

Three Laws Safe [blogspot.com] ?

Bah! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41373871)

3D printers are supposed to change everything. EVERYTHING. I'm serious as cancer when I say 3D printing is a dancer! WOOOOT!

I, for one, welcome... (1, Redundant)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 2 years ago | (#41373875)

... our new robotic overlords.

Terms and conditions apply

Re:I, for one, welcome... (2)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41373991)

Baxter will enjoy serving the Vault Dweller after the war.

Competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41373901)

It helps the US factories compete, but does it help the US workers compete?

How much better educated and skilled are the US workers?

Options:
a) raise the _minimum_ education and skill level
b) provide income even to those who don't work
c) have lots of unhappy hungry people

Re:Competition (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | about 2 years ago | (#41373955)

Options: a) raise the _minimum_ education and skill level

What? This is not the problem. The problem is in training for jobs where we need people. I know more that a few sales people at the mall with masters degrees... Yet it takes days to get a plumber or A/C repair man.

Re:Competition (4, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41374029)

Well.. up comes the problem of coupling university education and job training.

And add the fact that to the people that are driving all the change in the U.S. right now the only valid job is CEO / other management. Plumbers, good HVAC techs, and electricians are just as valid and needed of a job as CEO. But again... our values are really, really screwed up right now.

Re:Competition (3, Interesting)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Competition (3, Interesting)

Antipater (2053064) | about 2 years ago | (#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:Competition (3, Insightful)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#41374347)

I can see your point, but I must disagree. I've worked in a bar too, and while it was my place of work, I was expected to be sociable. Fixing printers, however, I was expected to FIX IT NOW YOU'RE COSTING ME MONEY I HAVE IMPORTANT WORK TO DO.

I should have pointed out that these weren't desktop laser or inkjets, these were professional wide-format plotters, where a failure cost more per minute than I made per hour.

Re:Competition (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41374391)

'Fault' might not be the right term. 'Incompatibility' might be better. Some people do not 'mix' well in short-term situations(unless actually impaired enough for a diagnosis of 'mild autism-spectrum-disorder/nonverbal learning disability not otherwise classified/damned-if-we-know-we're-just-the-DSM', they can usually learn to fake it enough for politeness' sake; but faking it is draining not pleasurable); but they might feel much more at home in a more cohesive environment where they get time to develop rapport with coworkers or customers over time.

Obviously, if somebody simply can't usefully interact with others, they are going to have vocational issues period; but people who can easily and spontaneously interact with a steady cast of strangers, and actually feel better for having done so, are definitely a subset of the socially functional in general.

(anecdote semi-related to the point: it may also depend on the system under which the techs are allocated. My office has a printer-tech contract and I usually never even see the printer techs, much less get a chance to talk to them or not. Each printer has a unique code(identifying its model, room number, street address, and our customer info) and a phone number. Any member of the staff can call the number and punch in the code if their printer is out of toner. We get a report on service calls every quarter for billing/tracking purposes; but the only person who sees the same tech more than once, at most, is probably the receptionist who buzzes in visitors... We aren't hostile and impersonal per se; but under the allocation system used, it'd be nontrivial for a tech to exchange more than a 'good afternoon' with somebody who happened to be in the hallway at the same time.)

Re:Competition (1)

udachny (2454394) | about 2 years ago | (#41374847)

I worked as a printer engineer for 6 months, and during that time had nobody to talk to all day long

- oh, come on, you don't have to talk to yourself all the time, we have a solution for that now [omg-facts.com] .

ready for the -1 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41373957)

Stupid people need jobs too.

We're never going to get rid of stupid people. They will always be there.

I guess get ready for the "player piano" society.

Re:ready for the -1 (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | about 2 years ago | (#41374703)

Even if you could get rid of the stupid people you would never get rid of stupid people. The previously middle-range IQ people would now because the stupid people. You then loop this forever until there is only one person on the planet, at which points he drops his glasses and can't read books.

Re:ready for the -1 (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41375277)

Even if you could get rid of the stupid people you would never get rid of stupid people. The previously middle-range IQ people would now because the stupid people. You then loop this forever until there is only one person on the planet, at which points he drops his glasses and can't read books.

It's not fair!

+1 for the reference, and a bonus +1 for the chuckle remembering that episode brings.

Re:ready for the -1 (1)

hoggoth (414195) | about 2 years ago | (#41375279)

Burgess, is that you?

Re:Competition (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41374031)

I suspect that there are two basic answers:

1.(the shorter term): So long as robots are capable of only some things, you'll get more jobs for US workers by keeping the factory onshore, partially robotic and partially staffed, than you will by having it leave entirely. Also, the presence of parts of the supply chain tends to have synergistic effects for other parts, especially when quick turnaround is needed, so even if you have an entirely automated factory, you have a better chance that WidgetCorp will keep their engineering office across the street so they can pop in and make revisions quickly, rather than opening up across the street from their factory elsewhere.

2.(longer term, albeit not necessarily that long, depending on who you are): Yup, robots can do much of what humans can do, often for less than the humans could live a non-miserable existence on. The scope of robotic('robotic' in the broad sense that includes both big industrial arms and pure software agents capable of data-processing tasks of various sorts) capability shows no signs of decreasing. Whether this means that humans are becoming obsolete, or humans are on the verge of getting some well-earned time off is up to us. And, frankly, I'm not inclined to optimism on this one...

Re:Competition (5, Insightful)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41374103)

Remember in the Jetsons where George says "These 3 day workweeks are killing me!"

That is what the view of what this type of tech was supposed to get us... the same living standard with less work. Instead the idea was turned on its ear and a lot of the benefits were kept at the very top.

I'm all for this type of stuff, but I think society has to figure out ways for this to benefit everyone. In a capitalist society is okay for the people who own the capital to benefit the most, but I don't think that's an excuse to let the rest of the society head towards poverty. When we see that in other countries we tend to call that repression.

Re:Competition (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374403)

Taxation would sort that out, if anyone rich ever paid tax. Sadly, tax law is so easy to hack, everyone's doing it. Instead of making secure software, we should focus on making secure international tax law. (Secure banking systems would help too, and I don't mean computer systems.)

Re:Competition (1)

udachny (2454394) | about 2 years ago | (#41374949)

The industrialization allowed people to be much more than previously that's why people could produce so much more and make so much more money while working so much less. So yes, the Jetsons theory was right. The problem of-course is that the government saw all this productivity and decided to steal it to grow the government and that's the reason you don't have a 3 day work week today. A capitalist society ends up providing the capital necessary to make the workers much more productive but then the wealth that is created attracts all sorts of people into government and all they do is find ways to grow their own power there and steal the productivity from the workers.

Re:Competition (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374089)

What? Your options make no sense at all.

"raise the _minimum_ education and skill level" How do you expect to do that? We are throwing more and more money at the schools to the point of bankruptcy. Yet you still think the education level is too low? Is it too low in China?

"provide income even to those who don't work" We do this now, but more to the point, how in the world is this an option to help 'US workers compete'. You are a fucking moron.

"have lots of unhappy hungry people" - I rest my case.

Re:Competition (1)

paiute (550198) | about 2 years ago | (#41374235)

We are throwing more and more money at the schools to the point of bankruptcy.

You obviously have no children in public school

Re:Competition (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41374645)

You obviously don't look at what they do spend money on.

Some public school systems are broken, no doubt. There is also no doubt that for at least some of them (D.C. Schools are the example that proves it) lack of money is not the problem.

Re:Competition (3, Insightful)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#41375367)

You obviously don't look at what they do spend money on.

Some public school systems are broken, no doubt. There is also no doubt that for at least some of them (D.C. Schools are the example that proves it) lack of money is not the problem.

Yup, it's a 'fund allocation issue,' certainly.

Accompanying anecdote: When I was in high school a scant decade ago, the board decided to cut orchestra and ceramics for lack of funding - the same year, they approved an brand new $2,000,000 building for the football/American football teams (pretty much just locker rooms and storage).

Of course, school boards (and sport parents) support these sort of decisions by claiming that sports bring in money - the part they leave out is that the sports programs are still a net loss, as they tend to cost 1.5 - 3 times as much to operate as they generate in revenue. But, that's not the important part here, the important part is that arts and sciences suffer so that school board members and parents can spend more time watching minors knock each other senseless.

Re:Competition (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41374693)

He's right, though. We spend more per-student then just about any other country in the world, and yet look at the results. There are many problems with our public schools, and some of them probably include the uneven way they are funded - but we more than adequately fund education.

Re:Competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41375213)

You are a fucking moron.

Perhaps, but clearly still smarter than you.

We are throwing more and more money at the schools to the point of bankruptcy. Yet you still think the education level is too low?

If you weren't so stupid it would be obvious to you that throwing more money at schools does not guarantee better minimum education levels, any more than throwing money at you would make you magically smarter.

Yet you still think the education level is too low?

Didn't help you enough did it?

Is it too low in China?

Definitely. The minimum is too low in China- even primary level education is too expensive for many in China. The workers there are cheaper, but already Foxconn is replacing more and more chinese workers with robots.

The low-end US workers already have problems competing with the Chinese workers, so what can they do with the added competition from the upcoming generation of robots? Drop their living standards to below Chinese worker levels?

What will happen to you when you are too stupid, uneducated and unskilled to get a decent job? In a free market capitalist US of A what would you do?

Re:Competition (4, Insightful)

Spiked_Three (626260) | about 2 years ago | (#41374161)

You hit a vital point. Robotic automation is about to explode 10 times what it has already. The only way the US is going to get more competitive is the automate production work with fewer employees. The competition will only respond with the same. There will be a chilling reverse effect on the economy, improve US manufacturing, AND drive up unemployment rates.

The corporations will not care about the worker, and I'm not convinced it is their job to do so. Profits will be up, investors happy, management has less headaches. This is not the a unique trend either. If you haven't noticed, education, now pushing a thing called STEM is really about just the opposite to what the public thinks it is. There is not a need for more engineers, there is a need to identify and weed out the top engineer without having to hire 3-4 to find the one. He/She will provide more profit to the company than all the others combined.

Yes, profit has become a refined science, and the group who will suffer the most is Joe Average. What do we do with him, other than let him become Joe Poor?

Anyhow, I'm not against robotic manufacturing, I just think there is a terrible consequence to it, that is not being discussed or planned for.

Re:Competition (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41374673)

Are you also against mechanized farming? You realize we should all be unemployed right now?

Re:Competition (2)

lordholm (649770) | about 2 years ago | (#41374713)

Yes the robots are terrible, we have seen this massive industrialisation before. The industrialisation of agriculture which resulted in a drop from 90 % to 5 % of the population being involved in agriculture resulted in 85 % unemployment as everyone is aware of, I can hardly leave the house without being chased by all those pitchfork carrying unemployed peasants... every day I fear for my life.

Re:Competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41375043)

How will profits be up if nobody's employed? Unless the robots that are making them are also buying them, this isn't going to work. Even if the people at the top are buying them, they can only drive one car at a time, they can only eat one steak at a time, they can't consume nearly as much as their robots are going to make.

Re:Competition (1)

udachny (2454394) | about 2 years ago | (#41375073)

I left a comment on this very topic - what happens to people in a transition period from one type of economy into another. [slashdot.org] I didn't get a very good response to it (I mean moderation), so it's not a popular thing on /. to think about it maybe? It's a long comment, here is the part of it that is relevant here:

Here is something I am going to expand on later on for the people who CARE about actual economic solutions to the economic problems to think about:

If the gov't is prevented from collecting taxes on production, so no more income taxes, no more payroll taxes, no more corporate taxes, then the production is not going to be limited artificially by these impediments.

If simultaneously the gov't is prevented from destroying the value of money, by printing them and by setting fake interest rates, then all of a sudden the gov't bonds become an ATTRACTIVE opportunity for people, who do NOT want to be in the stock market.

Yes, most people shouldn't even be in the stock market, they are forced into the stock market by the gov't regulations and inflation.

But if the bonds paid the real rates of return, then the majority of people could buy gov't bonds and hold on to them for the return, and that would mean that they would be bullish on the economy of their own country.

So the taxes that still would be collected off the transactions (like sales taxes, duties, levies, they are very much Constitutional), these taxes could be used to pay the interest on the gov't bonds.

Now, if the bonds paid the interest, maybe 5-6%, but there was no income taxes, no gov't regulations, then the growth of economy would directly mean more transactions, more taxes from those transactions, more taxes collected FROM CONSUMPTION, because all legal taxes are really consumption taxes, not production taxes.

This would mean that production would keep growing and the consumption would pay for consumption.

----

Imagine that, a growing economy, more and more savings (high interest rates), so more and more credit available for various business ventures. The more business activity - the more taxes are collected from transactions.

With high efficiencies in the business due to lack of gov't protections and regulations and thus lack of monopolies and price distortions, the people would be extremely productive, would be working much less than they are now, which, by the way, what the initial industrialization allowed in USA.

People sometimes say: what would happen if ALL jobs were automated, all production would be automated? Well, people would be freed to come up with new things to produce, something that cannot be automated, because the concept doesn't exist yet.

But what about the TRANSITION period? Well that is the point of owning part of the economy via the government bonds (or stock market) - you are invested in the economy with these bonds, stocks, and you are paid DIVIDENDS.

DIVIDENDS that are paid to the investors, and everybody becomes an investor.

--

Here you go, this is how the very much Marxist utopia becomes a reality VIA FREE MARKET CAPITALISM.

All production is owned by the people simply through investments. But the difference between this and all of the forced attempts at Communism and Socialism is that it is NOT FORCED.

This is purely voluntarily, nobody is forced to buy investments, nobody is forced to buy gov't bonds, but if the bonds return a good rate, you'd be stupid not to be invested.

Re:Competition (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 2 years ago | (#41375271)

Then I should point out to you the underlying flaw with that approach. The ability to manufacture in bulk with incredible efficiency does you no good if there's no consumer base to acquire said goods. The value of a middle class does not just apply on the supply side, and in the hyperbolic case, the whole economy would collapse.

Re:Competition (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#41375315)

Being unemployed is fine if production isn't affected, we just need to change how we allocate resources to people in a way that doesn't depend on employment.

We're not there yet, but we might want to start considering how we can use automated work to provide for everyone Star Trek or Culture style, while at the same time, not causing them all to become lazy, fat, bored idiots.

Because we don't need anymore manufacturing jobs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41373913)

Fucking freeloaders.

I wonder (2, Funny)

bhcompy (1877290) | about 2 years ago | (#41373941)

I wonder if this Baxter will survive being dropkicked into the river by Jack Black

Neato (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 years ago | (#41373945)

I wonder if they build Baxter's firmware with Jenkins.

Great... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41373961)

So instead of lesser-skilled manufacturing jobs going to low-wage workers overseas, they go to no-wage robots in the home country.

Not to deny that there's upside to keeping economic activity local at a similar opportunity cost, but this is good news only for the manufacturing companies, not the people who work there.

Re:Great... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374035)

Instead of 50 people keeping their job for 5 years, 25 people keep their job for 50 years. Which is better?

Re:Great... (2)

dywolf (2673597) | about 2 years ago | (#41374179)

Translation: don't settle for a low income low skill job, and rely on it to pay the bills your whole life. Unless it makes you happy of course. But if it doesn't strive for better.

Re:Great... (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#41374105)

buy a no wage robot, learn to control it.
have it do shirts and sell them at the mall.

Re:Great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374313)

Or teach it to box.

Re:Great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374357)

wouldn't it be good for engineers and programmers, and create demand for future roboticists? it's not like these things never break down, never need maintenance, never need upgrades.

Doesn't look well suited for manufacturing (1)

fragMasterFlash (989911) | about 2 years ago | (#41373999)

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.

Baxter, the... (1)

Ashenkase (2008188) | about 2 years ago | (#41374037)

Eviscerator.

Plenty-o-posts (1)

grumpyman (849537) | about 2 years ago | (#41374039)

I've read like what, 3 or 4 iRobot related post in the past week. What the deuce?

Re:Plenty-o-posts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374171)

I bought my 'iRobot' using 'bitcoins' and I'm using him to make a '3D printer'!

Re:Plenty-o-posts (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374743)

And I bought an Arduino controller for my 3D printer to make a case for my Raspberry Pi.

Meet Dice, slashdot's new corporate overlord (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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:Meet Dice, slashdot's new corporate overlord (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374205)

in a van, down by the river, due to this damn robot replacing me.

Re:Meet Dice, slashdot's new corporate overlord (1, Redundant)

onyxruby (118189) | about 2 years ago | (#41374627)

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

after watching the interview (4, Interesting)

v1 (525388) | about 2 years ago | (#41374061)

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:after watching the interview (2)

PRMan (959735) | about 2 years ago | (#41374195)

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.

Slow Movement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374365)

The slow movement stuck out to me as well. My mother works in a factory and I hear all the time about how they expect everyone to work incredibly quickly. Given the speed at which this robot moves and the speed at which factory workers are expected to move, they'll each need ten of these things working on a single task just to keep up with them. Where are they going to stand them all?

I too would have loved to have seen some application of the robot. So it can pick things up from a conveyor belt and move them to the side? So can a fence placed over the conveyor belt. ...and how does it find objects on a moving belt when it has no vision?

I particularly love at the end when he talks, as you get the impression that he really has no clue what the robot might be good for, but is just hoping that thousands of people will buy one and someone somewhere will figure out something useful for it to do. Personally, it seems entirely useless to me, like a giant toy. Looks like all it can do is pick up objects when it knows exactly where they are, and set them down onto something. Any competent engineer will have that conveyor belt already positioning the parts where you want them to be.

Re:Slow Movement (1)

pnot (96038) | about 2 years ago | (#41374411)

My mother works in a factory and I hear all the time about how they expect everyone to work incredibly quickly.

Robots aren't paid by the hour.

Re:Slow Movement (5, Interesting)

weiserfireman (917228) | about 2 years ago | (#41374481)

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.

Re:Slow Movement (2)

RoccamOccam (953524) | about 2 years ago | (#41374503)

The slow movement stuck out to me as well. My mother works in a factory and I hear all the time about how they expect everyone to work incredibly quickly. Given the speed at which this robot moves and the speed at which factory workers are expected to move, they'll each need ten of these things working on a single task just to keep up with them.

We should arrange a race. I know this really good factory worker by the name of John Henry ...

Re:Slow Movement (1)

bigwheel (2238516) | about 2 years ago | (#41374655)

Come on! This was a 4-minute video demonstrating a brand new technology and showing how it works. I'm pretty confident that it is capable of going faster than what you saw in the video. If not, then the next revision will be. If all you saw in the video was a blur, it would be meaningless.

As stated in TFA, the whole point is that this is a relatively inexpensive robot that can be programmed by people without advanced degrees, and safe enough to use by small shops in diverse environments. This allows US labor to compete with the ultra-low-cost foreign assembly lines.

Of course, Dr. Brooks doesn't know how many different ways it can be used. But if you look at it from the other side, imaging having a shop where you have a repetitive task that's too low for the lowest payed employee. Finally, there is a solution other than doesn't involve outsourcing.

Re:after watching the interview (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374379)

At 22k a pop, that buys a lot of retarded sloths.

Re:after watching the interview (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41374737)

Have you seen what retarded sloths want per hour these days?

At 22k I expect this to be an unreliable, high maintenance, plastic gear nightmare.

Re:after watching the interview (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374561)

Your concerns can be addressed! No worries; from the article:
The robot has 5 cameras (one on it's head, 2 on it's torso, and 1 on each hand) and is also equiped with sonar and pressure sensitivity.
Slow: yes, that's the point. It's moving fast enough where they can work safely next to a human, and are cheap enough that you can buy more to make up for the speed.
Trainig process: You have a line worker guide the robots hands through the process of what it's supposed to do, and then it will watch you do it a few times. In addition the little robot face looks sad/concerned if it's unsure if it's doing it right.
Saftey: From the article all your concerns are taken into account. It hits something unexpected or something odd comes into range and it stops moving all together.

Re:after watching the interview (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374687)

While this robot may have large industrial applications, I see its real niche in a ma and pa shop shops across America like an iPhone for repetitious labor. It's not that the technology is new or clever -- it's how easy and intuitive it is to use without a concern of messing anything up.

Anyhow, the linked video in the article is too marketing oriented. A quick search turned up this more demonstrative video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXOkWuSCkRI

This video does discuss "blind" mode picking and vision-aided picking. It also shows images from what I would presume are the cameras mounted on the robot arms for vision-aided picking. For something like "packing doughnuts", it mentions that the robot can be programmed to pack in one or two dimensional arrays. But yes, it's still a lot of puck moving.

Re:after watching the interview (3, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41374909)

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.

thoughts (3, Interesting)

vladilinsky (1071536) | about 2 years ago | (#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:thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374299)

Or make environmental compliance affordable. There's no need for our environmental complaince laws to be so fucking expensive, both in time and dollars. I can get something in production and shipped from China before I can finish the EIS for building the building here.

Re:thoughts (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | about 2 years ago | (#41374795)

There's your mistake. You can use an existing building.

Interestingly the USA is strong in two areas of manufacturing. 1. Highly automated large runs (labor is tiny fraction). 2. Tiny runs (labor is high but proximity is everything).

Re:thoughts (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#41374431)

"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...

Re:thoughts (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41374835)

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 economics are amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374327)

The robot costs about the same as a labourer's annual wage. Given that most capital looks for a five year payback, Baxter could work at 1/5 the rate of a human labourer and still be economically viable.

This looks like seriously disruptive technology [wikipedia.org]

That's cool, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374331)

I can't really see how taking a job away from some poor slob in China and giving it to a robot in the U.S. is going to help anyone, except for the wealthy 1%, who will become even wealthier, and politicians, who will make themselves look like uber-patriots by claiming this as a victory for America for which they deserve credit. And the handful of guys who make/repair the robots, of course, but those numbers are just chump change compared to the unemployed.

Re:That's cool, but... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41374759)

You can't see how retaining a factory helps the US? Really?

Re:That's cool, but... (1)

Trilkin (2042026) | about 2 years ago | (#41375231)

If it's only robots in the factory, do you REALLY think the savings in import costs and etc are going to be passed on to anybody, but the people at the top? Really?

Safety (1)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#41374359)

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.

An amazingly big deal... (5, Insightful)

nweaver (113078) | about 2 years ago | (#41374405)

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.

Re:An amazingly big deal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374623)

Wouldn't it be better to design a robot specifically for what you need it to do. It seems this thing doesn't seem very special, so a robot designed for a specific task may be able to replace several workers, and thus actually pay for itself in an even shorter time.

Re:An amazingly big deal... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41375007)

I work full-time on a robot built for a specific manufacturing process. A general-purpose robot would never compete in my industry.

That said, many factories don't run a continuous assembly process. Let's take an imaginary shutter-making factory as an example. Rather than have a batten-making machine going full-time, they might only make battens in a big burst until they have a sufficient inventory to make shutters for a few days or weeks. Then they might switch over to producing frames. Finally, they'll get their jigs ready and glue and clamp as many shutters as will fit in their jigs and then return to producing constituent parts. Having a purpose built robot for each purpose sitting idle 1/3 of the time might mean up to 3x the capital cost. In reality, the purpose-built robot might be slightly cheaper or faster - so the mathematics might be different. Point is, there could in fact be a scenario where a more general-purpose robot could work out financially.

Re:An amazingly big deal... (1)

WRX SKy (1118003) | about 2 years ago | (#41375009)

Your analysis leaves out:
  • * Cost of electricity to run the robot
  • * Cost of repair and annual maintenance
  • * Cost of larger facilities to accommodate 4 robots for every (previous) 1 human job station

I suspect it will not be as cost effective as you make it out to be.

$22 thousand? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374583)

What kind of idiot notation is this? I guess $22000 or $22,000 was too easy for them and they wanted to come off sounding like an illiterate goon.

Chinese Manufacturing (1)

Xacid (560407) | about 2 years ago | (#41374629)

"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.

Re:Chinese Manufacturing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41374879)

Let's say the USA and China both use the same robots, same assembly lines, same everything.

The cost of shipping within the USA beats the cost of shipping from China to the USA, especially with oil getting more expensive all the time.

Re:Chinese Manufacturing (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#41374945)

They'll have to remove the safety features before selling them to China. Don't want the Meat Units getting complacent.

Nice (2)

koan (80826) | about 2 years ago | (#41374647)

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?"

Re:Nice (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41374797)

I think you mean:
How are we going to please our human gods.

Umm (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 2 years ago | (#41374793)

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.

ADEPT Flexfeeder (1)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 years ago | (#41375157)

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]

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