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​The Robot That’s Going to Steal Your Job Just Got Wheels

Baxter, everyone’s favorite American worker replacement, is now mobile.
Baxter with Ridgeback, Image courtesy of Clearpath.

Baxter, the computer-screened face of the robots-are-taking-your-jobocalypse, has gone mobile. Ontario-based Clearpath Robotics has announced the Ridgeback, a "heavy development platform for mobile manipulation." Basically, it's a set of $35,000 smart wheels for Baxter. The internet's favorite job-stealing robot just became even more versatile, and thus, job-stealier.

Rethink Robotics' Baxter, you'll recall, is the workplace bot that's touted as a safe, efficient co-worker; he's human-friendly. Baxter can perform repetitive tasks in the same space as humans, and is lauded for apparently being able to avoid whacking them. In a sage move, the company also gave Baxter a cheerily sympathetic animated demeanor, perhaps so that its co-workers, the mailroom employees, factory hands, and assembly line workers whom it will soon replace, would remain unthreatened.

Until now, he also remained stationary. The Ridgeback upgrade changes that. Clearpath worked directly with Boston-based Rethink to fit the platform to Baxter's, though a company representative tells me that it can be tailored to carry other machinery, or to ferry payloads all by its lonesome.

"Ridgeback weighs 125 kg and can haul around up to 100 kg on its back," IEEE Spectrum reports. "It rides on four independently controlled Swedish wheels, which is the general term for mecanum wheels, which is the specific term for those weird-looking wheels that can go sideways. This drive system allows Ridgeback to translate in any direction, as well as rotate in place. It has a top speed of 1.1 m/s, and can run for up to eight hours."

The perfect length!—a human's shift. Perhaps Baxter's coworkers will feel a bit more threatened when Baxter is rolling around stocking shelves.