Globe 100

Innovators | Technology

This robot doesn’t replace workers, it works with them

Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics

Rodney Brooks, chairman, founder and chief technology officer of Rethink Robotics.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Rodney Brooks, chairman, founder and chief technology officer of Rethink Robotics.

Rodney Brooks, the inventor of the robotic vacuum Roomba, is back with a nimble next-generation industrial robot he believes will revolutionize manufacturing.

Baxter is bright red, has a cute “face,” and easily learns to do simple chores, like lifting items off a conveyer belt. Built by Rethink Robotics, a start-up Brooks founded five years ago after he left iRobot, Baxter is designed with a relatively low price tag — $22,000 — to allow small and midsize manufacturers to use automation and compete with low-wage countries. It started shipping over the winter.


“Roboticists have been successful in designing robots capable of super-human speed and precision,” said Brooks, 58, former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, or CSAIL. “What’s more difficult is inventing robots that can act as we do — to inherently understand and adapt to their environments.”

Daniela Rus, the current director of CSAIL, said Baxter is unlike any other tool because of its “common sense” — it can reason and learn — and has an intuitive interface anyone can use.

What’s next for Baxter? The robot’s development kit opens up its software to programmers, robot enthusiasts, and inventors. Brooks believes this will unleash unlimited creativity. “Who knows what Baxter will be able to do in the future?” Brooks said.

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