Rethink Robotics has a new industrial robot that may end up being a game changer in the way people think of factory automation. IEEE has a good article on the new robot. There are a few points in the article that I think are really important to focus on:
- The robot has a $22,000 list price
- The robot weighs 165 pounds and is sized about the size of a typical man
- The robot does not have excessive “robot” strength – it has “human-scale” strength
- The robot can be programmed by just moving the robots arms around, not by a programming language
- The robot provides feedback and “humanity” with an LCD face
The material cost of this robot is achieved by using new manufacturing techniques and by some clever programming. The mechanics of the robot are “sloppy” by conventional standards, but the robot uses relative measurements and continuous self-calibration to keep operating “in-spec”. This allows the robot to made with less expensive parts.
From here it is easy to see the space that this robot can really be a game-changer: micro, small, and medium manufacturing. With the intuitive programming procedure (basically just move the robot arms around, showing it the motions you want repeated), non-imposing size, and non-threatening strength, the robot can fit seamlessly into the lowest-tech enterprises. At $22,000, the robot costs a company about 40% of a typical employee for a year. Because of this and the short learning curve for programming, more Mom and Pop enterprises would be better served with one of these devices instead of an employee. For repetitive tasks, the decision would be a no-brainer. This is like the Chinese noodle robot I highlighted a few weeks ago – a human-scaled robot that can be used front and center in a small shop.
This robot really seems to be game changer and I can’t wait to see what small manufacturing looks like in the next five years.