Universal Robots hires marooned Rethink Robotics employees

It's a happy ending for several members of an iconic robotics firm that fell on hard times.

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Collaborative robotics giant Universal Robots is hiring more than 20 members of now-defunct Rethink Robotics, once a competitor. The announcement also came with news that UR will merge its Boston office with Rethink's former Boston headquarters.

The two firms were rivals in the close-knit robotics world prior to Rethink's unexpected demise in October. Though Universal Robots has always dominated the sector for market share, Rethink was one of the first to market and gained loyal cheerleaders with its charismatic flagship platforms, Baxter and Sawyer.

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Collaborative robots, which work alongside workers outside cages that have traditionally confined industrial robots, represent the fastest growing industrial robotics segment. The cobot market could be worth $3.26 billion by 2022, up from $283 million last year, according to BIS Research.

The failure of Rethink due to financial troubles raised eyebrows, given the strength of the industry overall. The post-mortem analysis suggests that Rethink's troubles were a result of its adherence to its two flagship systems, which were anthropomorphic with two arms each. That's an outlier in a sector now dominated by single robotic arms with between 5 and 7 joints.

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I've also heard from multiple sources that one of the primary problems for Rethink was its insistence on series elastic joints, which limit precise repeatability, a must for industries like components manufacturing.

Far from charity, the employee acquisitions will give UR needed engineering and customer expertise.

"Our new colleagues from Rethink have extensive expertise, knowledge and know-how not only about the technology but indeed also about the market conditions and what the customers' pain-points are," says Universal Robots' President Jürgen von Hollen. "All of this will benefit our customers and partners as we face an increase in competitors due to the huge market potential for collaborative robots."

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Universal Robots was co-founded in 2005 and is a part of Teradyne Inc., headquartered in Odense, Denmark.

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