Meet Baxter, the 300-Pound Robot in Coeur d'Alene
Baxter does his best to teach the basics of robotics and artificial intelligence to the students at the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene Computer Science Department. He’s even learning to make them coffee.
That’s pretty good for a 300-pound robot that inhabits the recently renovated Innovation Den, a cutting-edge research hub that houses tech startups inside the century-old Elks building in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
UI Coeur d’Alene students first met Baxter during Computer Science 404 Advanced Robotics this fall. The class is taught in the Innovation Den, where aspiring robotics engineers are teaching the mechanical being to learn new skills. Soon, Baxter will fix the college students a cup of coffee and build the university’s “I” symbol out of blocks.
“Baxter provides us a unique environment for closely working with a robot that is not behind plexiglass,” said Dr. John Shovic, Advanced Robotics instructor at UI Coeur d’Alene. “It allow us to learn how to insert robotics to work alongside people. This semester the biggest danger is spilled coffee.”
Baxter is one of two robots produced by Rethink Robotics, a Boston, Massachusetts, company founded by Rodney Brooks, the inventor of the Roomba vacuum. The company produced Baxter in 2012, followed by a second robot, Sawyer, in 2015.
“Students don’t need to be an already trained roboticist to work with Baxter,” said Robert Rinker, Computer Science department faculty. “That’s why Baxter is the perfect fit for the classroom. Baxter is safe next to people and can be trained by demonstration. The joints respond to force, allowing Baxter to feel its way.”
Baxter’s presence shows just how diverse the computer science students can get when pursuing their degrees through the College of Engineering. From developing cybersecurity software programs, to building complex wireless mobile devices, to creating social networking or gaming platforms, the work of computer scientists is as diverse as it is in demand.
In this program, students will learn how to design, develop and test computing systems for a wide variety of purposes. Students will become proficient in various operating systems, programming languages and techniques, and computer architecture, with many opportunities to practice software development skills on real-world projects. One of those projects is Baxter and how students can interact with the robot while learning and experiencing the unique operating system.
Students have the flexibility to specialize in an area that best supports their interests and career goals. For example, a student may focus on areas including computer networking, cybersecurity, computer graphics, gaming and virtual environments, bioinformatics or software engineering.
“Baxter is an integral component for students researching and learning these computer science skills,” said Rinker.