Baxter impresses with tasks

By Mikaela Collins

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Xavier Going, 5, from Paihia interacts with Baxter the robot at Whangarei's Forum North. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Xavier Going, 5, from Paihia interacts with Baxter the robot at Whangarei's Forum North. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Baxter can serve you wine and give you a massage, and he's not prone to talking rubbish.

No, he's not Northland's most eligible bachelor, in fact he's not even human.

Baxter is an industrial robot created in 2012 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston who visited Northland this week.

The 74kg robot was in Whangarei yesterday at the Central Northland Science and Technology Fair with his "surrogate parents", the Northland Innovation Centre (NIC).

"We brought him here to Northland as we believe this could help to do boring tasks so humans can do more tasks like design and marketing. We rented the robot for a few days to inspire youth," said Martin Knoche, CEO of NIC.

The robot is owned by Callaghan Innovation and is designed to slot in where humans can.

When asked if that meant Baxter could serve wine, Nathan Stantiall, business innovation adviser for Callaghan Innovation, said yes.

"Of course he can, absolutely," he said.

Mr Stantiall said Baxter could also flip burgers and give a massage.

"He may not be able to cook, but he can flip burgers so there's talk about using collaborative robots in the likes of McDonald's where it is repetitive work. He would [give massages], but his conversation might not be as good [and] his sense of humour needs a bit of work," he said.

But there are a lot of tasks Baxter can do and he has been trialled at businesses throughout the country.

"We did a business trial at a punch press shop, so what he was doing was feeding machine tender to the machine. Punch presses are dangerous, they're noisy and they're monotonous and boring," he said.

Mr Stantiall said questions are asked about how introducing robots would impact on jobs. He said it would create news jobs as the worker becomes the trainer.

"Also, where a production line may be deemed too expensive compared to China, rather than losing that whole production line, you introduce Baxter and keep it here."

When Baxter left the company he was last at, he received a leaving card with positive comments, despite one person saying his sister, the toaster, was better looking.

Mr Stantiall said the children who had come to look at Baxter were blown away.

Kenneth Van Beek, a 15-year-old Bream Bay College student, didn't know much about robotics a few days ago and had pretty much mastered Baxter.

"I've ordered some robotic gear this week ... Baxter drove me to get it this week."

- Northern Advocate

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