One of its immediate goals is to build 10 robots and make them available to university researchers as a common platform that can be tinkered with and improved. Willow Garage will also supply "an open-source code base integrated from the best open-source robotics software available"
Cousins reminisced about the time when a teenager might spend all day tinkering with his car. Stricter automobile-safety rules have made that practice a bit risky, but anyone with enough expertise will be encouraged to build on the Willow Garage robotic platform and find new uses for it, just as software developers constantly find new uses for the personal computer.
"We donâ''t know what the killer applications will be," Cousins said.
This sounds exactly like what the Forbes article was talking about: a personal robot that will enable hackers to find the new uses and abilities that will define the next decades of robotics. This is a more directed approach than other "hacker" robots like the iRobot Create or the LEGO Mindstorm, which are more about education and learning than they are new applications.
Willow Garage looks like an interesting company even beyond this program -- in addition to this personal robot, they're working on autonomous cars and surface craft. That's a pretty broad range of research, but there are enough similarities between the technologies that if they've got the right team of experts, I think some really cool stuff will come out of this.
Image from willowgarage.com/