If you are interested in robots and AI, you can't help but know who Rodney Brooks is. As well as having interesting views on the subject, he is also the founder of iRobot - of Roomba robot vac fame. Now, as CTO of Rethink Robotics, he's announced Baxter, a new industrial robot.
If anyone is going to change the face of commercial robotics, it is Rodney Brooks. His Roomba was not only an innovation, it was $200 when inferior models were being sold for $2000.
However, the important point about Roomba was that anyone could use it to keep the floor clean. His aim with Baxter is to make industrial robots so easy to use they become general tools.
"At Rethink Robotics we have been developing a new class of industrial robot. The transition from mainframes to PCs completely transformed office work, and then transformed how we access information in our daily lives. With mainframes only specialists had direct access to computation. With the PC ordinary people were empowered to control computation and to use if for their own purposes. The Baxter robot is aimed at an analogous transformation from current industrial robots which are installed, integrated, and controlled by specialists, to a situation where anybody who can work on a factory floor can install a robot and have it doing useful work within an hour. The important metrics for this new class of robot are adaptability, flexibility, and ease of use. And low cost. This talk will show how we defined and drove the design of the robot and its own manufacture to these metrics."
Now watch the video. It is an hour-long lecture and at first the sound quality is poor and there is a lot of initial "business" and "chatter" but stick with it. When Dr Brooks gets started you will find a lot to amuse and enlighten. For example, he makes the point that increasing sophistication of consumer electronics is making robots cheaper and easier to build. This makes it a great time to be in the robot business:
The key features of Baxter is that he is safe - there is a big off button - and he is cheap at around $20,000. Will Baxter be the Roomba of the factory floor?