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Rethink Reveals Version of Baxter Industrial Robot for Researchers
5/10/2013

Rethink Robotics is offering a research version of its Baxter industrial robot powered by a software development kit. The robot costs $22,000 and is aimed at giving robotics researchers an opportunity to create new software for Baxter, a robot designed to work side-by-side with humans safety and intuitively. (Source: Rethink Robotics)
Rethink Robotics is offering a research version of its Baxter industrial robot powered by a software development kit. The robot costs $22,000 and is aimed at giving robotics researchers an opportunity to create new software for Baxter, a robot designed to work side-by-side with humans safety and intuitively.
(Source: Rethink Robotics)

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Rob Spiegel
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Everybody and pitch in
Rob Spiegel   5/10/2013 11:51:44 AM
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This is a great idea. Open software for the robot could create possibilities far beyond what Baxter would have developed for its machines. This open model worked very well for Google when it gave away its Android smartphone operating system. The results were robust enough to allow Google to go toe-to-toe with Apple -- no easy feat. Because of its open approach, Android is now the leading smartphone OS in volume.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Ann R. Thryft   5/10/2013 2:33:19 PM
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Maybe this post should be titled "Rethink Rethinks Baxter." Anyway, thanks for the post, Elizabeth. Making Baxter available to developers is a great move on Rethink's part and will help accelerate development of this important robot design platform.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Elizabeth M   5/13/2013 4:40:24 AM
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Yes, I agree with all of you, this is a really great idea and it will be interesting to see what developers come up with when they have a chance to program for the actual robot and not just a facsimilie of the platform. Is this a novel idea, does anyone know? Have other companies done similar things? I wasn't sure about that myself.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Ann R. Thryft   5/13/2013 12:32:33 PM
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Elizabeth, I'm not sure what question you're asking. Opening up robot platform development is not a novel idea--that's why ROS exists, and at least one other robot company Willow Garage, has done more or less the same thing, including providing its robot hardware for tinkering. But WG wasn't originally formed to just make robots commercially, so that part is a relatively new idea. Also, ROS has been extended to industrial robots. We've covered the development of open-source robotic development in several posts:
http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=245355
http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?

Elizabeth M
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Elizabeth M   5/14/2013 6:36:00 AM
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Thanks for the clarification, Ann. What I was asking was somewhere between what both you and Rob answered--ie, has a commercial robot platform been opened up this way. I'm familiar with Willow Garage, and of course as you not there are a lot of open robotics platforms in the hobbyist world mainly, is that right? Sounds like Rethink is doing something a bit different for the commercial platform, which personally I think is a good thing.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Ann R. Thryft   5/14/2013 2:15:56 PM
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That's what I thought you were asking. As a commercial robot supplier--although a very new one--Rethink is definitely doing something different by opening up their hardware platform. This has already been done by researchers designing surgical robots, as we covered here
http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=239419



Elizabeth M
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Elizabeth M   5/15/2013 4:53:23 AM
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Thanks again for the clarification, Ann. Surgical robots seems like a good place to open up the technology as well for the reasons you point out in your story--price point and complexity. Have there been results in terms of how it has advanced that particular platform?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Ann R. Thryft   5/16/2013 11:42:18 AM
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Elizabeth, the open source Raven II project only began last year among research universities so it's too early for any solid results to have influenced industry.



Elizabeth M
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Elizabeth M   5/13/2013 4:48:56 AM
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Rob, I asked a question in my last comment and you kind of answer it. Google is one company that used this model to its success. I was wondering if it's ever been done with a robotic platform before. I imagine probably not, but perhaps this will set a precedent for the future, if it goes well. Savvy move, too, on Rethink's part, as they are pushing Baxter as a real innovation and are going for innovation in development as well by offering a research version.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Everybody and pitch in
Rob Spiegel   5/13/2013 1:32:50 PM
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Elizabeth, I'm not aware this open system approach has been used in robotics. I don't think it's been used much at all. I'd like to hear from those who have seen in used in other contexts. Google results were stellar. They gave away the platform and it because the leading platform for smartphones.

apresher
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Robot Research Platform
apresher   5/10/2013 2:31:54 PM
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This certainly creates a very potent development environment for software developers.  Will save alot of integration time developing hardware and testing, especially since there seems to be so much interest in humanoid type robots.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Robot Research Platform
Rob Spiegel   5/13/2013 12:55:48 PM
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I agree, Apresher, this does make for a potent development environment. It's good to see open source moving into new territory. It will be interesting to see what comes of this. It will depend on whether robotic engineers eagerly take to this model. The jury's out on that question.

apresher
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Baxter for Research
apresher   5/13/2013 3:19:08 PM
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I think what makes this unique is that Rethink has developed its system using open software but now is making its humanoid hardware platform (with all of the development that went into it) available for research purposes. Researchers can concentrate solely on software solutions with than many problems already solved for them. Very interesting development.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Baxter for Research
Elizabeth M   5/14/2013 6:46:46 AM
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Yes, that definitely seems like a unique value proposition, Al, especially since hardware and software development are two very different sides of the same coin. Those developing software and those developing hardware are usually not the same folks, so this definitely makes it easier for those on the software side of the house to program Baxter.

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