I really like the Roomba. It is the first real robot that started to be accepted as part of daily life. The folks behind the Roomba are trying to make a similar stride forward in the workplace with their next creation, Baxter. Baxter is a semi fixed robot that can be easily compared to legacy production robots with one key difference. In addition to being able to be programmed in a more traditional computer language it can also be programmed by recording actions. This would be most comparable to the two ways you can create a macro in excel; you can write a macro or you can record your button clicks and have excel write the code for you. Baxter autorecorded programming is the feature that they are touting as the game changer.
In some ways I can see how this will make the human to robot interface more open to people who are not coders or roboticists. The price point also makes this type of automation more accessible to a wider array companies. But this is still a fixed robot that will be doing a single task somewhere in a company’s value stream. I understand that it can be more easily repurposed than other more traditional assembly robots but, if a company was looking at an employee or a robot I am not sure that Baxter changes the current business case assumptions.
In the end I think this is the next step forward for an industry that by its very nature is shifting jobs away from low skilled to high skilled and along the way reducing the total number of people needed to accomplish any given task.