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PR2 maker Willow Garage turns to commercial robotics

Following a report that it will close, the popular startup says it will instead become a self-sustaining company.

Willow Garage

Things are changing over at robotics startup Willow Garage, the open-source powerhouse known for its very adaptable domestic bot PR2.

Following an IEEE Spectrum report earlier today saying Willow Garage would shut down in the next few months, the company announced on its blog that it "has decided to enter the world of commercial opportunities with an eye to becoming a self-sustaining company."

"This is an important change to our funding model," it added.

Founded in 2006 by Google search engine co-designer Scott Hassan, Willow Garage has been committed to developing open-source robots such as PR2 and TurtleBot and was instrumental in launching the ROS robot operating system.

The terse announcement left it unclear what the new focus will mean for the future of the nearly 50 PR2 robots already in use around the world. The company said its "support of the platform will not diminish."

IEEE Spectrum cited company sources as saying employees were told last Friday that Willow Garage would dissolve within a few months.

While it encouraged spinoff companies such as telepresence firm Suitable Technologies, Willow Garage didn't seem to have the sales to sustain itself. In 2010, it announced that 11 research groups would get a free PR2 robot, which it valued at $400,000 each.

PR2 and ROS have encouraged roboticists in many countries to collaborate on creating a universal language for practical, everyday robots.

The humanoid has pulled off some astounding feats, navigating interiors reliably and repeatedly recharging itself, making breakfast, fetching beer, and even helping people shave. Last year, it was a candidate for the Robot Hall of Fame.

Whatever happens at Willow Garage, I hope PR2 keeps evolving.