Rethink Robotics unveils Sawyer, a little brother for its Baxter robot

Baxter and its little brother, Sawyer.
Baxter and its little brother, Sawyer.

Boston-based Rethink Robotics unveiled Baxter, its industrial learning robot in 2012. Since its launch, Baxter has been updated several times, mostly to improve the speed and accuracy of the robot’s ability to do automated manufacturing tasks.

But today, Rethink has reimagined its Baxter concept in its newest robot, called Sawyer.

“We saw all these opportunities for tasks that Baxter couldn’t do,” said Rethink Robotics’ chief executive Scott Eckert about the origins of the smaller robot. He added that the company found that manufacturers and others who used Baxter wanted a robot that had a higher level of performance with greater precision and speed.

Unlike the two-armed, larger Baxter, Sawyer is much smaller (it weighs 42 pounds compared to Baxter’s 165) and has a single arm, which the company says is ideal for machine tending, circuit board testing, and other automated tasks. Like Baxter, Sawyer has an animated face and uses the company’s Intera software system, which allows it to “learn” tasks and adapt to its working environment.

Additionally, Sawyer will feature an “embedded vision system” that includes a camera in its head and a Cognex object recognition and barcode scanning camera built into its arm.

Eckert explained that the places where Sawyer will be used needed a robot with a smaller footprint to be able to be integrated into assembly lines with human workers.

One odd aspect of Rethink’s new robot launch is that the basic version of the smaller robot, Sawyer, will retail for $29,000, which is more than the basic version of Baxter, which retails for $25,000. Eckerts said that the inclusion of more advanced hardware in Sawyer’s arm — including the expensive Cognex camera — resulted in the higher price for Sawyer.

In terms of the name Sawyer, Eckert explained that Rethink likes to give its robots human names (not anything like the T-1000) that would sound like a “trusted buddy that you would work with.” The company also likes to have names that have a historical reference. “Baxter” is an old term for a baker, while “sawyer” is a colloquial name for someone who saws wood.

The new robot is expected to be released this summer in North America, Europe, China, and Japan.

Dennis Keohane was a Senior Staff Writer for BetaBoston.
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