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Rethink Robotics
Baxter Assembly Robot

Rodney Brooks, the former MIT professor who helped launch iRobot, asked Farm to help him develop an exciting new idea - introduce inexpensive robots to American factories where they hadn't previously been used, and help make manufacturing in the U.S. more cost-competitive. Brooks’ company, Rethink Robotics, needed a development partner to help create a lower-cost industrial robot that could be easily trained to do repetitive tasks while safely working alongside people. In addition to being inexpensive, the robot would be simple to set up and operate, and would be supported by a community of developers writing software for it.

Rodney Brooks challenged Farm’s team to achieve two primary goals with the industrial design of what would eventually become the Baxter robot. First, he wanted Baxter to look authentic to its identity as an American-made product working in American factories. Secondly, our designers had to negotiate the “Uncanny Valley,” a term that refers to the discomfort people experience when they encounter a robot that looks too “human.” Because Baxter is taught its movements directly by a person manipulating its arms, the client wanted the robot to convey an empathetic quality that would make Baxter’s human coworkers comfortable.

Farm’s industrial design team, working from component architectures supplied by Rethink Robotics, began the development of a visual aesthetic that communicates “approachable machine coworker,” and defined many of Baxter’s visual elements and details, including the tubular cage that encloses the central torso and the circular rubber armpads that are designed to mitigate any damage caused by accidental contact.

Baxter was introduced in early 2013, and has already been purchased by companies like Rodon, a large injection molding firm, and the electronics manufacturer Nypro.

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