A new generation of robot workers is readying to punch in and pitch in
Can’t call them Next-Gen any longer, because they’re here and ready to work. New-Gen is more like it.
Amazingly, for the first time in sixty years, robots are now easy to unpack, install and put to work. It appears that robots are following the same ease-of-use trajectory as automobiles, telephones and computers before them; and their makers are undoubtedly hoping for the same degree of customer acceptance and product success as the former three.
Thanks to Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots, deploying one of these new robot workers has been reduced to a near-casual, out-of-the-box, one-hour activity. Better still, tablet-control of that new worker robot enables it to get up-to-speed for the job at hand on the very same day it arrives.
According to Rethink’s CEO Rod Brooks: If you buy a normal industrial robot, it takes weeks to get a quote, you get a systems integrator to put the system together, and it might take four or five months before an arm is delivered to the integrator, you load it up with other software, it’s programmed by an engineer, and meanwhile, you have to reorganize your production floor to have safety cages, and put a lot of space around the robot. It’s a 9- to 18-month process to get a robot installed.
That scenario is not going to cut it with its emerging customer base, the 300,000 SMBs out there with fewer than 500 employees, none of who have ever purchased a robot yet could use one. SMBs have zero time to waste waiting for a new worker to arrive and to get productive.
Rethink’s robot, Baxter, can even be ordered online, which is how Sears got huge through mail order and what Amazon has now refined into an art form. Combine point-and-click ordering with the ubiquity and price point of a Henry Ford Model A together with the ease of use of an Apple-type GUI, and the world has got its next billion-dollar blockbuster product. Both Rethink and Universal offer all of the above, except ubiquity, but that may just be a matter of time.
And they’re safe!
Baxter’s arms can sense when another worker is nearby and come to a screeching halt. Universal Robots’ manufacturing arms as well can operate in the vicinity of people, reports Gizmag, thanks to a patented technology which measures the electrical current in each joint that controls the arm’s movement.
In a collision, the robot delivers less force than the 150 Newton (33.72 lb) regulatory limit [EN ISO 13850], so, depending on the application, Universal Robots may be able to operate without an enclosure. Of course, end-effectors and other environmental conditions could create a hazard, and a risk assessment should be done with any industrial motion control application.
This means that only about 20 percent of companies using Universal’s arms require any sort of safety shielding. Baxter, on the other hand, is billed as safe for everyone.
Additionally, Universal’s arms can be easily programmed using an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI) on the attached tablet, and a hands-on teaching function – similar to the system adopted by Rethink’s Baxter.
These innovations dramatically reduce the initial set-up time, which traditionally takes a specialized team of programmers several days, to just a few hours. Another similarity with Baxter is its low price of entry (Baxter $20,000; Universal approximately $30,00, with the total cost dependent on end user needs), making both arms accessible to SMBs.
Though the $30,000 price tag is less than half that of typical robot installations, it includes one arm, where Baxter has two.
Still, Universal’s UR5 and UR10 arms can be quickly moved from one location to another, and can lift 5 kg (11 pounds) and 10 kg (22 pounds) respectively, whereas Baxter is only able to lift 2.2 kg (5 pounds). It’s a trade-off that could make all the difference to smaller shops.
Ready to order? Baxter is available for purchase right now in the U.S. while Universal Robots is already selling in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the U.K.
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