Automaton: Baxter the robot.

BUSINESS REPORT
The Next Wave of Manufacturing

Small Factories Give Baxter the Robot a Cautious Once-Over

Rethink Robotics invented a $22,000 humanoid robot that competes with low-wage workers.

By Antonio Regalado on January 16, 2013

Chris Budnick is head of Vanguard Plastics, a small injection-molding operation in Southington, Connecticut, that makes plastic fixtures, gaskets, and other “stuff no one cares about unless it breaks.” On a computer screen, placed where all his workers can see it, Budnick displays what he considers the company’s key statistic: sales divided by man-hours.

Budnick, a Yankees fan who never misses a game on the radio, calls it his company’s “batting average.” Wages are his second-biggest expense (after raw materials), and sales have been slow. Even so, the figure stands at $206.8 per man-hour, above the previous year’s mark of 201. For Vanguard to stay in business, says Budnick, the figure has to go up by 1 percent or more every year. There’s only one way get there: produce more while working less.

That is why Budnick is now considering adding a new member to his team: a robot called Baxter. Baxter was conceived by Rodney Brooks, the Australian roboticist and artificial-intelligence expert who left MIT to build a $22,000 humanoid robot that can easily be programmed to do simple jobs that have never been automated before (see “This Robot Could Transform Manufacturing” and “Rebooting Manufacturing”).

Read more: Rethink Robotics and a Low-Wage Worker Named Baxter | MIT Technology Review.

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