cobots on the go: giving sawyer and researchers a platform for movement

in rethinking robotics, robots in education by Ian McMahon

To realize unlimited possibilities, a cobot needs to be free. Sawyer’s arm has seven degrees of freedom, enabling manufacturers to deploy the robot to a wide range of tasks. What if that same level of freedom could stretch to other areas of the robot? Imagine the possibilities…

Now you don’t have to use your imagination. We have partnered with Clearpath, a provider of vehicle robotics for research and development, to integrate the research version of Sawyer, equipped with Rethink’s software development kit (SDK), with its mobile platform, Ridgeback.

Cobots on the go: Giving Sawyer and researchers a platform for movement

Mobility in robots is the next step in allowing researchers to bridge the gap in many industries, including household, hospital and warehouse settings.

This integration with Clearpath Ridgeback– which, like Sawyer SDK, is built on a ROS API layer, making it open source and therefore, super accessible – came from two sources: a request from our research customers, and our observations of mobile robots in action. At the annual Amazon Picking Challenge, we’ve seen that some of the most successful robots were on a mobile platform. In 2017, the competition presented the additional challenge of decreasing the work cell space from previous years. The robots had to deal with stacked objects and a smaller space, mirroring the real-life challenges of automating the Amazon warehouse. Tasked with picking items from Amazon shelves and placing them into storage, mobile robots were better equipped than their stationary counterparts to maneuver through difficult spaces to complete the task at hand.

We can’t claim to know now what the future holds for mobile cobots, but Sawyer SDK with Clearpath has showed us that the possibilities are great.

When we released Sawyer SDK, we were surprised and delighted by the creative applications that university students came up with. (Stanford University put Sawyer to work – both as an artist and loading a moving drone.) By adding mobility into the equation, researchers can explore a vast array of new applications. We can’t claim to know now what the future holds for mobile cobots, but Sawyer SDK with Clearpath has shown us that the possibilities are great.

A Sawyer collaborative robot sits atop a Clearpath Ridgeback.

Want to see the mobile research Sawyer in action? We will be presenting our partnership with Clearpath at the International Conference for Robotics and Automation (ICRA) this week, May 21-25, in Brisbane, Australia. You can also catch our Founder, Chairman and CTO Rodney Brooks, who is delivering a plenary session titled Robots and People; the Research Challenge.


About the Author

Ian McMahon

Ian McMahon is a Robotics Software Engineer at Rethink Robotics. He received his Masters of Engineering in Robotics at the University of Pennsylvania while working in the GRASP lab, focused on researching Haptic Sensing with machine learning techniques. At Rethink, Ian leads software development of the Sawyer SDK product for Research and Education.

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