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Baxter the robot wows conference audience

By: Bill Bregar

May 24, 2013

ERIE, PA. — Baxter the robot wowed attendees May 23 at Penn State Erie's Injection Molding Conference.

Mark Proud Jr., vice president of Baxter distributor Proud Co., ran Baxter through its paces, demonstrating how the two-armed robot can pick up plastic parts and move them around, stack them or put them in a box. He showed how a simple control on one of the robot's arms changes the functions, which include teaching, a history of tasks and operation.

"We want to put the power of robots into the hands of people who have never had an experience with robots," Proud said, adding that Baxter is good for "very mundane, remedial repetitive tasks."

Baxter, made by Boston-based Rethink Robotics Inc., can work side-by-side with people, with no need for special safety guarding. Sonar detects if someone is nearby, and Baxter's computer-screen face turns to see.

If something goes wrong during operation — say, for example, Baxter can't find any parts to grab or someone grabs a part out of its gripper — the face gives a confused look and a red light flashes.

Proud said Baxter's camera-equipped arms each have a payload of 5 pounds. The arms can coordinate, but they can't work together to lift one thing, like a box of parts — so far.

"What Baxter can do tomorrow and what it can do today are two different things," Proud said.

One conference attendee, Per Flem, president of Recto Molded Products Inc., said Baxter already made a sales call at his custom molding plant May 21 in Cincinnati. A representative from a nearby robot firm stopped by. "They wheeled it out of a trailer. They brought it right into the plant," he said.

Flem said he's itching to buy one. "The technology is really incredible, but it has a very finite application," he said. "It isn't as fast as one would like. Finding the right application is the key to its adoption."