Robotic co-worker Baxter joins factory line

Baxter the robot
Image caption Baxter can work happily alongside human co-workers

A humanoid robot designed to work safely alongside people on factory production lines has been unveiled in the US.

Priced at $22,000 (£13,500), Baxter will go on sale in October.

Its makers, Rethink Robotics, say it can apply common sense, adapt to its environment and be trained in less than 30 minutes to complete specific tasks, by workers without robotic expertise.

Currently factory robots tend to work separately to humans, often in cages.

Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics founder and former director of the MIT Computer and Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, said he hoped Baxter represented a "new concept in manufacturing".

"Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of superhuman speed and precision. What's proven more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do - in other words, that are able to inherently understand and adapt to their environment," he said.

'New hope'

According to the International Federation of Robotics there are now 1.1 million working robots in the world. In car manufacture, for instance, about 80% of the production is completed by machines.

Equipped with sensors and other software to help it see and understand its environment, Baxter has also been programmed to apply common sense to its environment. For example, if it drops an object, it "knows" it has to get another one before trying to finish the task.

To teach Baxter a new job, a human guides its arms to simulate the desired task, and presses a button to program in the pattern.

If the robot does not understand, it responds with a confused expression.

It is hoped robots such as Baxter can help to bring manufacturing back to the US, much of which has gone abroad to countries where labour is cheap.

"We could offer new hope to the millions of American manufacturers who are looking for innovative ways to compete in our global economy," said Mr Brooks.

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