Groundbreaking maker of gentle factory robots shuts down

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Enlarge / Baxter in 2014.

Back in 2014, we wrote about Baxter, an anthropomorphic factory robot that was gentle enough to work alongside human workers. We visited Baxter at a robotics trade show in New York, and it seemed like the company was getting a lot of interest from potential customers. Unfortunately, we learned last week that Rethink Robotics, the company behind Baxter, is shutting down.

Traditional factory robots are dangerous—they're often put behind cages to avoid accidentally injuring human workers nearby. Baxter, by contrast, is designed to work directly alongside human workers. All of Baxter's joints are designed not to pinch fingers. Its arms can "feel" if they encounter unexpected resistance (like a human body part) and stop. Company representatives liked to put their arms or heads in the path of the robot's arms to show off this safety feature.

Traditional factory robots are also difficult to program. By contrast, almost anyone can learn how to teach Baxter a new task by grabbing its arms and guiding it through the desired steps.

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