Foellmer demonstrated what happens when you stick your arm into the path of Baxter's pick-and-place operation -- it stops right away. It also won't pinch you if you get your arm or leg stuck inside its area of operation, such as under one of its moving arms. At first I let Foellmer risk his limbs, not mine. Then I let Baxter's arms run into my arm. The robot's force-detecting motors stopped it immediately.
Being also a materials person, I immediately noticed that Baxter has mostly plastic surfaces, not hard, metallic ones. That's highly uncommon in industrial machines, although not unusual in some service robots. It's also another thing that makes this robot safer.
The second major goal was to make Baxter simple enough so human workers can train it to do easy but repetitive tasks. In other words, it can be programmed by people on the floor, not those with advanced engineering degrees wearing a special software pendant. The fact that it doesn't need complex programming also means it's simple to integrate into existing automated operations, although many smaller manufacturers don't have existing automated assembly lines anyway. Most of their assembly cells are inhabited by humans doing things by hand. But the simplicity of programming makes changing Baxter's tasks much easier than is usually the case in industrial robots. We've discussed that excruciating complexity on several Design News comment boards.
Rethink Robotics' Baxter. (Source: Design News)
Baxter does not move large parts: It's got a payload limit of five pounds per arm. It's also got a small footprint, weighs about the same as an average-sized adult man, and can be moved around fairly easily. It's clearly not meant to do everything, and doesn't do the kind of high-speed pick-and-place on display in Anaheim by major industrial robot makers like ABB. The other revolutionary thing about Baxter is its open-source Unix-based OS, ROS (robot operating system). That plus an SDK to be released later this year will help open up the robot as a platform for development.
Baxter's $22,000 price tag is much lower than the typical two-armed industrial robot, which should make it more appealing to small companies that want to start using automation. It's already been beta tested at a couple of customer sites, Foellmer said, and has just started shipping.
Folks, the discussion here about SawStop potentially being applied to robots working with humans gave me an idea. Please check out this post about possibly starting a Design Ideas forum and tell us what you think: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=259964
78RPM, I agree about 3D printing making stuff that's too complex to do any other way. That's definitely one of its big draws. BTW, the photo in this story doesn't show the $70 titanium part that bone grows around; that's an acetabular cup. The photo shows a titanium bone rasp for hollowing out femurs, as the caption states.
Even more than changing the production lines, that sawstop works at the expense of saw functionality. Consider that it stops the blade with a ridgid stop lever jammed into the swas teeth. So it does stop fast enough to prevent an injury , which is within one tooths distance on the blade. So the blade attachment may be damaged, and for sure the blade is sort of reshaped a bit, and that expensive stop actuator must be replaced, since the high presure charge has been used. So your saw is out of business until the expensive part is replaced. That may be OK for a home experimenor but it will be a big problem for folks using the saw for making a living. Then there is the question about what if you don't replace the driver, but instead just remove it. That means that you have defeated a safety device, and can be attacked by the OSHA man.
So while the sawstop is an interesting device, it is a big burden as well. Next question is how many folks do cut off fingers every year? Not that many, I don't think.
It's also easy to see why the power tool industry resists the technology, William K. The idea of implementing this technology raises the possibility of having to invest gigantic amounts of capital to re-tool their existing production lines.
Charles, The interesting point associated with that SawStop invention came from the scientist that I was working with at a previous job. He pointed out that nobody makes any money off of safety devices until you can get the government to force everybody to use them. Examination of the safety things that we have today does show that it is absolutely correct. So in re3ality it is seldom about safety, it is always about profit.
If everybody really wanted the safest car possible we would all be driving Volvos, but as you can see some folks consider other aspects to be more important.
And some safety features only benefit those who should be limited to driving speeds of under 20MPH, specifically the new stability control systems that we will be forced to purchase in the near future. One more reason to stick with older model cars.
Agreed, William K. There are several reasons why saw manufacturers didn't rush to adopt SawStop -- another of which is the licensing fees. I have to admit, though, the story of the SawStop inventor is an intriguing one.
An MIT research team has invented what they see as a solution to the need for biodegradable 3D-printable materials made from something besides petroleum-based sources: a water-based robotic additive extrusion method that makes objects from biodegradable hydrogel composites.
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
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