Rethink Robotics is changing the way robots can be used in production and research environments. Their robots require no safety cages, complex programming or costly integration and is unbelievably inexpensive compared to the competition.

Challenge

By mid 2010, the company had developed several robot arm prototypes and had taken it out to test with customers. The learnings have been instrumental in fleshing out product requirements, which in turn helped define the electromechanical and software system architecture of this very complex product. The next challenge was to go through an accelerated product development cycle to bring the first version of this product to market in time to launch at the biannual Automate show in January 2013, with a coordinated hardware and software release schedule.

Our approach

As VP Product Development in charge of the engineering organization (hardware and software), Elaine worked with the engineering directors to develop an aggressive but executable project plan that took the robot from early concept to mass production, with two engineering phases and two manufacturing phases in the process. The engineering team engaged with suppliers from the start, incorporating design for manufacturing (DFM) principles based on targeted feedback from plastic and metal suppliers who will be making the custom parts.

The hardware side of the engineering team worked cross functionally with the in house manufacturing and operations team as well as the contract manufacturing partners and component suppliers to bring up the production process. On the software side, the team designed the software platform to deliver a minimum viable product for the manufacturing market based on customer learnings. A modular architecture allowed the team to develop a low level SDK to service researchers who want to directly program the robot to perform custom motions, which was ultimately released as the software running on the Baxter Research Robot.

During Elaine’s tenure, she recruited top talent to join the team, doubling the size of the team to over 50 full time engineers, bringing in rock stars and domain experts to accelerate the product development effort. She also fostered a highly collaborative and cross functional culture within engineering as well as across other departments. By forming cross functional tiger teams who are highly tuned in to customer needs and wants, the company was able to compress the software development and release cycles by months in some cases.

Results

The company started shipping Baxter to manufacturing customers in January 2013, then went on to offer more than 10 additional major and minor software releases for this market. The Baxter Research Robot went into alpha testing in March, and started shipping to end customers in June 2013 with several additional software releases providing additional functionality to the research market.

  • Company: Rethink Robotics
  • Product: Safe, teachable, cageless robot for manufacturing applications