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Rethink Robotics launches its first product: Baxter, an inexpensive and easily-trained manufacturing bot

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 17, 2012 09:26 AM

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Boston-based Rethink Robotics is planning to unveil its first product on Tuesday: Baxter, a two-armed manufacturing robot that will sell for $22,000. Rethink was founded by Rodney Brooks, right, a long-time robotics prof (and head of the artificial intelligence lab) at MIT who was one of the three co-founders of iRobot. Its earliest backer was founder Jeff Bezos; the company has raised $62 million in venture capital funding so far.

My Sunday Boston Globe column focused on the upcoming launch:

Last week’s splashiest product announcement was the iPhone 5, introduced by Apple in San Francisco. But this week’s could very well be a humanoid robot that a Boston company is unveiling on Tuesday. Its name is Baxter, and though it will cost north of $20,000, the Boston company that developed it, Rethink Robotics, asserts it could change manufacturing in the same radical way the iPhone changed the mobile phone business.

A big part of Rethink’s pitch is that Baxter will be a friendly robot, one that won’t obliterate manufacturing jobs here but make it economical for manufacturing sent offshore to be done domestically once again. To which I must say: Really?

No start-up in Boston has a pedigree that can match Rethink’s. The company was founded by Rodney Brooks, a renowned robotics researcher who was one of the three founders of iRobot Corp., the publicly traded maker of robots that roam the battlefield and the living room floor. Rethink’s first investor was founder Jeff Bezos. Rethink’s chief executive Scott Eckert was responsible for launching the e-commerce business at Dell Inc., the Texas computer maker, in the mid-1990s.

You'll be able to see Baxter on display at next month's EmTech conference in Cambridge.

Here's more coverage of Rethink's launch:

• IEEE Spectrum has detailed photos of Baxter

• "Rod Brooks and Rethink Reveal an Industrial Robot for the Masses," in Xconomy

• "A Robot With a Reassuring Touch," in the New York Times

• "I Made the Robot Do It," by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times

• "Robots That Work for the Little Guy," from the Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2012

• "Thinking Twice on Rethink Robotics," by Dan Kara in Robotics Business Review

• "Will lower-skilled workers get pushed out by robots?" a column of mine from June 2012, comparing Rethink Robotics and Harvest Automation, another local robotics startup.

• "Will Our Consumer Goods Always Be Manufactured By Hand?" – Rodney Brooks talk from May 2012:

• Businessweek: "Smarter Robots, With No Pesky Uprisings."

• Technology Review: "This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing."

• Some photos by VC Steve Jurvetson (one of Rethink's investors) of a recent visit to Rethink's headquarters in Fort Point Channel.

• Back in June, Rethink changed its name (it had formerly been known as Heartland Robotics), and announced its most recent round of funding: $30 million.

• Rethink's press release.

• Video demo from Rethink:

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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