Rethink’s Sawyer robot is now on sale

Rethink's Sawyer robot at work at a GE Lighting plant in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Rethink's Sawyer robot at work at a GE Lighting plant in Hendersonville, North Carolina.

Rethink Robotics is betting your next gadget will be put together by one of its own.

The company’s newest robot, Sawyer, goes on sale Wednesday and marks the company’s first foray into new applications, including electronics manufacturing. It will also be the first time Rethink sells a manufacturing robot outside North America.

Rethink announced Sawyer, its second robot, in the spring. Since then it’s been offering companies in the United States, China, Japan, and Europe a chance to test the one-armed factory assistant.

Sawyer works safely around people, just like Baxter, Rethink’s ruby-red two-armed robot that has become well-known to manufacturers and researchers.

But Sawyer is billed as something of an upgrade — a smart, teachable machine capable of better maneuvers and finer precision, with an upgraded camera system. The robot is also sensitive to touch, letting its digital brain know when it comes into contact with another object. At 42 pounds, Sawyer is lighter than Baxter, and a shade more expensive at $29,000.

Taken together, these skills allow the robot to join assembly lines dedicated to manufacturing circuit boards and chips. Electronics manufacturing is “one of our biggest target markets for Sawyer,” Rethink CEO Scott Eckert said.

Rethink reports that GE Lighting and furniture maker Steelcase are among the manufacturers who have tested Sawyer in US factories. Both have put in orders for the robots ahead of launch.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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