The truth is that all those manufacturing jobs the US has lost in the past several decades aren’t coming back from China, Vietnam and Mexico any time soon. It’s just too damn cheap and convenient for companies to exploit foreign labor as opposed to dealing with the relatively high wages of American workers. But if we could give American companies a cheap manufacturing robot, it might help keep things competitive.
According to an article in MIT’s Technology Review, Baxter features a screen with humanoid facial expressions, allowing it to indicate to operators that it is busy, confused, or ready to move on to a new task. Encased in plastic, its large limbs move at a relatively slow pace, and are designed to stop immediately upon any unexpected contact — Brooks reportedly demonstrates the unit’s safety features by placing his head in Baxter’s path, receiving just a light tap when it hits him. Most importantly, the robot is capable of learning new tasks in a very short amount of time, using a set of cameras to build up a profile of target objects and allowing human operators to guide its arms through the required motions.
And at $22,000, Baxter is a steal compared to the cost of a completely custom-built manufacturing robot.