Baxter 1.1 dazzles crowds at BIOMEDevice Boston

The biggest and splashiest exhibit at BIOMEDevice in Boston this week was staged by a company that didn't even exist a year ago.

Rethink Robotics attracted crowds anxious to see activities of the new humanoid robot Baxter, which has been a big hit in the plastics processing industry since its launch late last year.


Baxter can be quickly programmed by line workers to perform simple repetitive tasks and has been adapted by several molders already, including Nypro and Rodon.

"We're introducing version 1.1 here at the show," engineer Mike Fair told PlasticsToday in an interview on the show floor amid a buzz of traffic and questions. "One of the new capabilities is that you can now sequence specific tasks. Right now Baxter determines what actions to perform opportunistically."

Baxter will be able to do a one-armed task, two separate one-armed tasks running concurrently, and now a two-armed task in a coordinated order

The Baxter 1.1 software also introduces machine synchronized input/output (I/O) signaling and sequencing functionality, enabling tighter integration with existing automation systems. "We'll be able to integrate and sync Baxter with other manufacturing machines via PLC," said Fair.

The existing port has one digital input and one digital output. It will be expanded to up to an additional eight digital input and eight digital output lines through an Ethernet connection. It will use 24v signals.

There is no charge for the upgrade to current customers.

The existing capacities of Baxter are pretty impressive. It has cameras and sensors allowing it to "see" objects, "feel" forces and "understand" tasks. As a result, it can adapt to changing environments.

There are no safety cages. Workers can safely stand right next to it.

"That's why use of plastics in the design is so important to us," said Fair as the robot's arm gently touched his shoulder when he stepped into its way. The lightweight arm housed in a blend of polycarbonate/ABS quickly stopped. Plastics also helped reduce the cost of Baxter, which starts at $22,000.

A number of functionality upgrades are being worked on. For example, the robot only works in one plane right now. If it picks a piece horizontally, it can't change the plane for placement. That will change, according to Rethink Robotics. Version 1.2 will also expand I/O capabilities, Fair said.

"We're surpised by the types of companies buying Baxter," said Fair. "We thought it would be mostly mom and pop operations that didn'tt hink they could afford robots. But we're seeing a lot of interest from big companies."

He said the company does not disclose the number of units being shipped, but said there is already "a healthy backlog". Lead-times are about four weeks. The company also does not disclose the specific location in New England where Baxter is assembled. Rethink Robotics is located in Boston.


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