how baxter got its name

in rethinking robotics by Sue Sokoloski

When Rethink Robotics was founded in 2008, the company’s mission was to bring to market a new generation of robots – collaborative robots – to improve productivity in manufacturing environments. Rethink’s goal was to introduce robots into environments where automation had not been practical, and to make manufacturers more efficient, and their workers more productive.

Baxter the Manufacturing Robot

From the start, Rethink’s robot was to be different – a humanoid robot, safely working next to people, affordable by companies large and small, trained not programmed. “Back in the old days, there were mainframe computers and workers didn’t touch them. When PCs came along, ordinary office workers now had computers they could use themselves. We are trying to do the same thing for robots and factories,” said founder Rodney Brooks in 2012.

So how does a company go about naming such a ground-breaking invention? Typical of new high-tech products, the robot was given an internal code name.  But it wasn’t labeled with the boring letters and numbers ubiquitous in the industrial robot industry.  Instead, the first prototype was called Cooper, short for “cooperative”, and was painted white.  As the robot began to take shape and the launch date drew closer, a quick brand/trademark search revealed that Cooper was popular in a number of adjacent industries, and therefore needed replacing.

As often happens in start-ups, employees rallied around finding a new name.  It turned out that Cooper was Old English for a barrel maker. The hunt was on.  While a number of Old English occupations were considered, it was Baxter, or baker, that captured everyone’s hearts and minds.  Rodney Brooks is quick to point out that the Baxter typically meant a female baker, but don’t tell that to Rethink customers who say he is a great co-worker!

How did Baxter become red? That’s a story for another day.


About the Author

Sue Sokoloski

Sue has spent the last two decades marketing for emerging technologies, building new categories, and applying science to the art of marketing. It took one look at Baxter to sign on to Rethink Robotics – a human-safe robot out to change the world. When not promoting “all things Sawyer and Baxter”, she is focused on “all things food”: where to eat it, how to prepare it, how to write another cookbook about it.

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