Baxter is a robot developed and introduced by Rethink robotics in 2012. Unlike manufacturing robots of the past that were expensive, dangerous, and specialized, Baxter is affordable and can be trained to do a number of routine tasks. And while earlier robots were isolated in steel cages, Baxter works alongside operators on the production floor.
Bilge Mutlu found that managers and maintenance staff viewed Baxter like any other piece of industrial equipment. But the operators felt differently. Here’s some things they said:
- “People call him my son. They don’t like “Baxter” and think it’s funny how much I like working with him, that I understand him.”
- Sometimes I write down on my timesheet, “Baxter was not a team player today.”
- He’s a lot of fun to be around. He can improve my day.
- Sometimes he really tees me off, and I let him know it.
What part of Baxter did operators like the most? His eyes. While Baxter’s eyes don’t “see”, they do register expressions and point to what the robot will do next.
- I like them [the eyes]. . . because, I love that, I mean, it, because it’s the nonverbal communication. . . I think that it’s just natural.
- The eyes make him seem smart. Like he knows what he’s doing.
- They [new employees] don’t usually understand what the robot will do next, where it will go. . . This [the eyes], this helps them get it.
What do the operators wish that Baxter could do that he can’t do? Small talk.
- I want it to say, “good morning, [informant’s name], my favorite co-workers and display a little bouquet of flowers.
- It would be nice if he could just shoot the breeze.