Rethink's workplace robot is now smarter and easier to train

New software should make 'Sawyer' simpler to use and modify.

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Nick Summers
February 9, 2017 9:03 AM
Rethink Robotics
Rethink Robotics

Think of a warehouse robot and a huge, cumbersome machine probably comes to mind. They're reliable, but difficult to reprogram if you're not a trained specialist. Rethink Robotics is trying to tackle the problem with Sawyer, a one-armed robot with a tablet for a face. A new software update called Intera 5 means it's now easier to program for new, custom tasks in the workplace. At its core is a "behavior engine" that can be visualised like a logic tree. Similar to basic coding applications, that makes it easier for people to change specific movements and 'if this, then that' style reactions.

Sawyer's best trick is still its teach-by-demonstration feature. Users can move the arm around and trigger different components by hand, such as its wrist-worn camera, to show what a task should look like. Sawyer will then remember the steps and replicate them on demand -- a fast, simple way for businesses to automate construction, diagnostics and repairs. When something went wrong, however, it could be tricky for untrained workers to source and fix the problem, because parts of the underlying code were 'hidden' or difficult to find. Now, the robot should be easier to tweak, making initial deployments and complex reassignments faster.

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