September 24, 2012

Baxter Disappoints

This new robot named Baxter, by Rethink Robots, is practically being touted as the greatest thing since Swiss cheese--"allowing our people to use their minds more than their hands"--but this demonstration video shows a clumsy and awkward robot instead. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (18 September 2012) actually calls it a "huge disappointment" and I've got to agree.

The product manager in video calls Baxter--developed with $62 million over 5 years--"easy," "complaint," and "collaborative," but unfortunately Baxter, the robot, comes off looking anything but as he slowly and laboriously tries to pick up and move items from one location to another, and the product manager pulls his arms and pocks at his screen/face to program it.

While I am a huge fan of robotics and see their potential to transform our society--where robots can becomes surrogates for humans in everything from work to even odd companionship, I do not see the breakthrough here by Rethink Robots--except in the affordability of this robot to be used in manufacturing for only $22,000 a unit. 

What I do like about Baxter is that it is generally a good-looking device--with a solid looking grey base and long 9 foot wingspan red stretch arms.  I even sort of like the eyes and brows giving it a humanoid nature, but the quirky and flimsy looking red screen hanging off the main body looks chinsy. 

Also, if the robot is so "friendly," you'd almost expect it to be on wheels and mobile with the ability to speak, so that it could more genuinely interact with others, but it does not.  

Baxter is the brainchild of one of the pioneers of the Roomba vacuum--another toyish device that I wouldn't spend a dime on. 

Maybe, the way to look at it is that we need to take baby steps before we get the real iRobots coming to us--and hopefully that day will come soon.


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