Chairman, Founder and Chief Technology Officer
Location: Massachusetts, USA
Number of employees: 85
Year founded: 2008
27 Wormwood Street
Boston, MA 02210
While consumer electronics have become easier to use, robots on the factory floor have not. Partly because of how much time and engineering expertise they take to programme, it typically becomes economical to automate a task only if a robot will spend several months doing the same thing.
Rethink Robotics is now selling a two-handed robot – called Baxter – that is intuitive to operate and works right out of the box. Anyone can train Baxter to perform a task, by grabbing its hands and showing it what to do – for example, taking a part from a conveyor belt and stacking it in a crate. Baxter learns the goal, not just the sequence of events, and works safely alongside humans. Rethink aims to make Baxter cost-effective even if it changes task every couple of hours.
That means Baxter is suitable for use even in small factories, automating tasks that it has never previously been economical to automate. Rethink envisages Baxter revolutionizing the factory worker’s job, from performing repetitive tasks to training and supervising robots. Baxter also reduces the economic pressure to outsource the tasks to low-cost countries. Leading by example, Rethink manufactures Baxter in the United States.
Early adopters of Baxter, which costs around US$ 22,000, have included the molten plastics sector and third-party logistics. Rethink has recently started shipping research models of Baxter to universities, and expects to be surprised by the uses to which the robot is ultimately put.