AI News, Rethink Robotics' Sawyer Goes on Sale, Rodney Brooks Says 'There May Be More Robots'

Rethink Robotics' Sawyer Goes on Sale, Rodney Brooks Says 'There May Be More Robots'

“Everything is a mess,” Rodney Brooks says, as we make our way through a brick-walled room filled with robots in various states of assembly here at Rethink Robotics’ headquarters in Boston, Mass.

As robots whir around us,Brooks waves towarda cluster of empty (and messy) cubicles that one team of engineers normally occupies.“Last week, there was so much activity,” he says,“now they are all gone.” Some headed out forSilicon Valley and Las Vegas to demonstrate Sawyer at trade shows, while others are deploying robots at customer sites around the world, Brooks [pictured below with a Sawyer]tells me.

Like Baxter, its predecessor, Sawyer can safely operate alongside human workers, who can teach the robot to perform tasks simply by moving its arm though a series of motions.

But whereas Baxter has two arms and can help with packaging and material handling tasks, the single-arm Sawyer is designed for tasks that require more precision, including machine tending and circuit board testing.

Rethink hopes that these features will help Sawyer stand out from the competition—most notably the UR3, UR5, and UR10 robotic arms from Danish firm Universal Robots, which has sold about 4000 robots all over the world (and was acquired by automatic test equipment company Teradyne for $350 million in May).

Rethink says companies already using Sawyer include GE Lighting (GE Ventures is an investor in Rethink), wherethe robot works on a production line positioning parts into a light fixture, and office furniture maker Steelcase, which taught Sawyer how to place parts into a welding machine:

Mr. Robot: Rodney Brooks Says Gentler, More Aware ‘Cobots’ Are Coming To Make Our Lives Easier

Few people have done more to bring humans and robots together than Rodney Brooks.

Two decades ago, the Australian inventor, mathematician and former MIT professor founded iRobot, the company that designed Roomba, a line of robots that zip around homes and clean dirty floors.

Today, he’s still dreaming up clever ways to make robots do our dirty work — but in factories rather than living rooms.

These “cobots” are working next to humans in assembly plants and warehouses, handling many repetitive, dirty and difficult tasks.

People can place robots into workspaces right next to humans and have them take over the really dull, repetitive parts of the jobs that people don’t like doing.

As they’re moving, they’re predicting how much force they should feel, and then, if they hit something, within a millisecond or two they’re aware that the forces are not what they expected.

We quickly shut down the motion and then we go into what is called squish mode, where a person can just push the arm out of the way.

RB: At Rethink Robotics, we’re concentrating on factory and fulfillment right now, but we’ve also made the robots available with special software as a research tool to universities.

We hope that lots of smart people will use them and help us go into hospitals, into elder-care facilities and even food production.

We don’t think we can solve all of those things right at once, but we can provide a platform, which lets researchers figure a lot of new stuff out.

RB: From the beginning, as we’ve been developing our robots, we’ve been trying to identify the friction points that stop people from deploying robots in factories.

But we want our robots to be able to use force feedback as they are inserting, say, a delicate component into a circuit board, and also make it easy for the humans to show the robot what the exact parameters of the task are.

RB: The Boston Consulting Group says that only 10 percent of automatable tasks in factories have been automated in the 50 years we’ve had industrial robots.

Rethink’s Robots Get Massive Software Upgrade, Rodney Brooks “So Excited”

little over a year ago, Rethink started shipping Sawyer, a collaborative robot designed to be faster, stronger, and more precise than the company’s first cobot, Baxter, which didn’t “sell like hotcakes,” as Brooks had expected.

But developing a brand-new robot was just part of Rethink’s post-Baxter plans: Another goal was completely rebuilding its software platform, called Intera, which is responsible for controlling all of Sawyer’s functions as well as allowing users to program the robot.

My code is gone.” At the heart of the new system is what Brooks calls a “behavior engine” that lets users program complex tasks based on simpler ones.

While in previous Intera releases large sequences of tasks were difficult to modify, now all tasks are graphically arranged as abehavior tree, making it easierto visualize, understand, and adjust what the robot is doing at every step.

The Boston-based startup, which was founded in 2008 and has raised $131.5 million in VC funding, hasn’t disclosed sales numbers, but it says Sawyer is selling much better than Baxter, helping the company triple its revenue last year.

Analysts credit an easy-to-use interface as a major factor in helping Danish firm Universal Robots dominate the cobot market, with thousands of robots shipped per year.

Brooks hopes the new system will help users master Sawyer’s advanced vision and force-sensing capabilities to tackle complex automation jobs, especially in the electronics manufacturing sector.

Another challenge Rethink wants to solve with Intera 5 involves coordinating Sawyer and all the other assembly line components—conveyor belts, equipment to feed and sort parts, machines like drills and CNCs.

Ultimately Brooks wants to focus on automating ever more complex tasks, disregarding the relatively simple applications that other cobot companies are currently pursuing, a market he believes will soon be taken over by cheaper robots from China.

Rethink’s Sawyer Robot Just Got a Whole Lot Smarter

Designed to help non-experts program routines that instruct the robot how to carry out complex tasks, the new Intera 5 software could help the company realize the potential of factory robots that are capable, safe, and easy to work with.

At the heart of the newsystem is what Rethink’s founder and CTO Rodney Brooks calls the “behavior engine.” This is essentially a programmable decision tree that can be tweaked to make the single-armed Sawyer robot carry out a wide array of tasks.

Rethink’s first robot, a two-armed model called Baxter, didn’t sell very well—but it was a proof of principle that robots could use things like force sensors to avoid hurting humans while still performing useful industrial tasks.