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Rethink Robotics Announces Baxter Robot Helper, We Go Hands-On in Boston

Automaton gets special access to Rethink Robotics' new factory helper robot, Baxter

1 min read
Rethink Robotics Announces Baxter Robot Helper, We Go Hands-On in Boston

Photo: David Yellen for IEEE Spectrum

So, you remember how we took that trip to Boston back in June to see iRobot? Well, it wasn't really to see iRobot, as awesome as that was. Really, it was to see Rethink Robotics, meet Rodney Brooks, and find out what they'd been working on so secretly all this time. So yes, we've known all about it since June but were sworn to secrecy, until just this second: today, right now, Rethink Robotics is announcing Baxter, a dual-armed robot factory helper robot designed to take over simple tasks for humans. It's completely safe to work around, a cinch to program with absolutely zero training, and most importantly, it only costs $22,000, making it eminently affordable for even small businesses.

Rethink Robotics and Baxter will be the cover story for the October issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine, but you can read our entire article right now on the Spectrum website. Let us know what you think, and feel free to post questions! We spent over six hours at Rethink interviewing all kinds of different people and getting demos of Baxter, and we couldn't possibly stuff all of that information into just one article, so we're happy to expand on whatever you're most interested in.

Check out our feature article on Rethink and Baxter here.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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