A One-armed Robot Tries to Steal the Show

A one-armed, doe-eyed robot named Sawyer drew crowds of admirers recently in the exhibition hall at the Southern Automotive Conference in Biloxi. The high-performance robot was designed to tend other automated equipment, do circuit board testing and other exacting tasks formerly impractical for industrial robots.

Sawyer was unveiled last year by Rethink Robotics, a Boston-based robotics company that also produces Baxter, a big brother of sorts capable of doing heavy-duty work like loading boxes. Sawyer’s base price is $29, 000, while Baxter goes for $25, 000 or, as one source drily notes, the average base salary of a U.S. worker. Sawyer’s minimum useful life is rated at 35, 000 hours. 

AirHydroPower, the Kentucky-based company that was showing Sawyer off, says it can typically pay for itself in three to six months doing repetitive tasks like window polishing 24/7 without supervision.

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Sawyer has what coaches would call “soft hands.” Its sensors at each joint calculate appropriate force to apply to each object, thus is can “feel” its way into fixtures or machines, even when parts or positions vary. Sawyer packs an embedded vision system, which includes a camera in its head to perform applications requiring a wide field of view and a Cognex camera with a built-in light source in its wrist for precision vision applications. 

Weighing only 42 pounds, Sawyer offers an 8.8-pound payload, with 7 degrees of freedom and a 1-meter reach that can maneuver into the tight spaces and varied alignments of work cells designed for humans.

Text by Dave Helms

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