How do you jump-start the move toward all-purpose robots? Willow Garage uses open-source software and enlists 11 top research organizations.
Eric Berger, left, and Keenan Wyrobek of robotics specialist Willow Garage hosted an open house Wednesday evening to introduce the first round of PR2 robots being made available to researcher and developers.
With a mission to accelerate the advancement of open-source robotics software and development, Scott Hassan founded Willow Garage in late 2006. The Menlo Park, Calif., company has now awarded 11 institutions a chance to see what they can do with the PR2 robots.
Willow Garage CEO Steve Cousins speaks with the press, including journalists Rachel Kremen of MIT's Technology Review, left, and Erico Guizzo, right, who attended Wednesday's event remotely via mobile robots. Running via wireless network, the robots are able to see, hear, speak, and interact with attendees at the event.
The company's grand goal is to foster the development of all-purpose robots that can function in everyday settings. After receiving 78 proposals for robotics development projects, Cousins says, Willow Garage awarded 11 institutions leases on the PR2 robots, which use the company's open-source Robot Operating System.
PR2 robotic units in various stages of construction sit inside the Willow Garage labs in Menlo Park. Inertial sensors, fingertip sensors, and tilting laser scanners (which build 3D models of the world) are all incorporated into these devices. Willow Garage is eager to see what kind of uses and applications its 11 partners will concoct over the next two years.
A PR2 unit mingles with the Willow Garage crowd Wednesday night. The company is looking to have an immediate and dramatic impact on the robotics industry, moving the problems in robots from "How do you build it?" to "How can you use it?", said Keenan Wyrobek, Willow Garage's co-director of personal robotics.
At Willow Garage's launch party Wednesday, the PR2 units emerge in unison. Institutions that received PR2 robots for research include the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Bosch Research and Technology Center, Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Southern California, the University of Tokyo's JSK Robotics Laboratory, and MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
Although he is present only by way of a robotic interface, a conversation with journalist Erico Guizzo, who is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., is very lifelike, and his image and voice translate well through the robot.