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Meet Sawyer: The New Face of Industrial Automation

March 19, 2015
robot, robotics, rethink robotics, sawyer, baxter, automation, manufacturing
Rethink Robotics' new smart, collaborative robot aims to bring automation where it has never gone before.
When Rethink Robotics released its two-armed, friendly-faced Baxter robot in 2012, it defined a new era of industrial robotics. Slow-moving, software-based, and interactive, Baxter opened the door for collaborative robotics, allowing small and mid-sized manufacturers to bring automation side-by-side with human workers on the factory floor often for the first time.

Today, the company has given that platform a major upgrade.

This morning, Rethink Robotics unveiled Sawyer, a single-arm, high-performance robot designed for machine tending, circuit board testing and other precise tasks that have historically been impractical to automate with traditional industrial robots.

"With Baxter, we introduced the concept of robots and people working together on the plant floor," said Rethink Robotics president and CEO Scott Eckert. "With Sawyer, we have taken that relationship to the next level, with a high performance robot that opens the door for many new applications that have never been good candidates for automation. As we continue to redefine this industry, we also continue to give manufacturers new ways of adding efficiency and flexibility into their operations."

The robot offers the same highly-touted safety, compliance and usability advantages of Baxter – including the iconic "face" screen, embedded sensors and train-by-demonstration user interface – while providing the smaller footprint and high precision performance needed for tasks that require significant agility and flexibility.

The system runs on the Intera software system, the same extensible platform that powers Baxter, enabling it to dynamically adapts to real-world conditions on the plant floor and integrate seamlessly into existing work cells.

Together, Rethink Robotics estimate that Baxter and Sawyer can address 90% of manufacturing tasks that could otherwise not be feasibly automated with traditional solutions.

Weighing 42 lbs, Sawyer features an 8.8 lb 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.

Its high-resolution force sensing, embedded at each joint, enables Rethink Robotics' compliant motion control, which allows the robot to "feel" its way into fixtures or machines, even when parts or positions vary. This enables an adaptive precision that is unique to the robotics industry and allows Sawyer to work effectively in semi-structured environments.

Sawyer also features 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. Sawyer's vision system enables the Robot Positioning System for dynamic re-orientation, and over time will support more advanced features that are inherent to the Cognex system, such as barcode scanning and object recognition.

Sawyer at Work
Jabil, a global electronic product solutions company that is partnering with Rethink Robotics as an early adopter and field tester of Sawyer, recognizes the robot's immense potential.

"Flexible automation that addresses shrinking product lifecycles and helps companies align with consumer trends is a critical technology initiative for manufacturers," said John Dulchinos, vice president of digital manufacturing at Jabil. "Rethink Robotics continues to lead the way in defining how workers and machines can coexist to leverage the strengths of each, and optimize productivity for all."

Dan Kara, robotics practice director at ABI Research, also sees the value of Sawyer for the robotics industry and its customers.

"With the introduction of Baxter, Rethink fundamentally changed the conversation in the robotics industry and pioneered a new way of thinking about automation. Today, the collaborative concept has been accepted, the value has been proven, and more companies are looking to standardize globally on these solutions," he said. "Sawyer incorporates advanced technology from the Baxter platform, but is different in other fundamental aspects, making it suitable for wholly new classes of applications. Rethink's Sawyer is a very compelling technology that has the potential to once again change the way manufacturers think about their automation infrastructure moving forward."

Sawyer, which will retail for a base price of $29,000, will initially be available in North America, Europe, China and Japan. It is currently being field tested by several large manufacturing companies in those regions. Sawyer will be released with limited availability in the summer of 2015, with general customer availability targeted for later in the year.