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Open Source Robotics Foundation Accelerates ROS Transition, Hires Key ROS Developers From Willow

It's not entirely clear what's going to happen at Willow Garage in the next weeks and months, but there has been a substantial amount of concern within the robotics community about the future of ROS, the Robot Operating System. ROS has grown far beyond Willow Garage, and is now being used by researchers, hobbyists, and industry all over the world. With Willow changing, what's going to happen to ROS? The Open Source Robotics Foundation has a blog post that should make you feel a bit better about the future.

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Rat Robot Beats on Live Rats to Make Them Depressed

One of the two rats in the above picture isn't really a rat. One of the two rats in the above picture is, in fact, a robot. Look closely and you can just barely figure it out. Meanwhile, the rat that isn't a robot is seriously depressed, because that's what this robot specializes in: rat depression.

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Robot Penguins Spy on Real Penguins

Scientists and filmmakers love to deploy robots in disguise to spy on real animals. They've sent drones to film herds of elephants and zebras in Africaarmored mobile robots to photograph Kenyan lions, and animatronic apes to get close-up footage of bonobos. Now the BBC has sent 50 special cameras, including robot penguins that can walk and swim, to get inside penguin colonies and capture never-seen footage of the adorable flat-footed, tuxedo-clad birds in their natural habitats.

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UPDATED: Willow Garage to Shut Down? Company Says 'No, Just Changing'

UPDATE 11/12/13 3:03 p.m. EST: Our latest stories on Willow Garage's dismantling, including an exclusive interview with founder Scott Hassan:

Majority of Willow Garage Employees Move to Suitable Technologies, PR2 Still Supported

Interview: Scott Hassan on Willow Garage and the Future of Suitable Technologies

And for more on Willow Garage's spin-offs, read:

UBR-1 Robot From Unbounded Robotics Revolutionizes Affordable Mobile Manipulation

Startup Spotlight: Industrial Perception Building 3D Vision Guided Robots

Redwood Robotics Brings Big Names to Next Gen Robot Arms

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UPDATE 02/11/13 11:37 p.m. EST: 

Willow has just released a response, which we're posting below in full:

Willow Garage 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.

The success of the PR2 personal robot and of ROS will continue. There are close to 50 PR2 robots in the world and Willow Garage support of the platform will not diminish. And of course, ROS, as an open source platform, will continue independent of our business model choices. In addition to Willow Garage, its supporters include the Open Source Robotics Foundation and all the other contributors in the ROS community (academic, industrial and individual) who have made it the platform of choice for Robotics.

While Willow declined to comment on our original story before we posted it, as far as we can tell Willow's response doesn't directly contradict any of the information that multiple sources (including current Willow employees and past Willow employees) have told us. Our concern is that if the change of funding model is as simple and as innocuous as Willow's post makes it sound, we would not have received multiple, consistent tips over the weekend that something very serious had happened. Our original headline, stating that the company was to shut down, reflected the information that these sources gave to us. We now have decided to update it in response to Willow's official statement. We hope to receive further clarification from the company.

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IEEE Spectrum has learned that Willow Garage, the Silicon Valley robotics powerhouse that brought the world the PR2, ROS, TurtleBot, and several robotics spinoffs, will likely be dissolving within the next few months.

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Floating Robotic Shipping Containers Team Up to Create Islands and Runways

Well, it was only a matter of time: first, there were robot swarms on the ground. Then, there were robot swarms in the air. And now, we've got robot swarms taking over a swimming pool. Run for the hills! Or really, you'll probably be fine running for any sort of dry land if you want to escape this swarm of robotic boats. But why would you want to do that? It's not like they're part of some sort of DARPA project that will one day take over the world or something. Nope, definitely nothing like that.

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Video Friday: Exploding Soft Robots, Chatbot Movie Scripts, and Quadrotor Demos

Man, what I wouldn't give to have the opportunity to poke a quadrotor with a stick and have it not immediately crash into something. I always wonder if the incredible people who work in these robotics labs get up every morning and go into work and are like OMG ROBOTS!!! all day. Maybe it wears off, but every once in a while, I hope they get to take a step back and realize how jealous the rest of us are. Every Video Friday, we get even more jealous, and this week is no exception.

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Bionic Man is The Future of Humans, Not Robots

A $1 million dollar bionic something or other is now on display at the London Science Museum. It's not really a man, and it's not really a robot. It's not really a cyborg, either, although that might be the closest accurate descriptor. What it is, is a showcase of all of the artificial systems we can install in humans to try and fix things that aren't working, along with a look towards the future of augmented biology, all stuffed into a human form.

Rex, as this, er, project, is called, was put together out of $1 million work of artificial body parts by Shadow Robot Company to be featured as part of a documentary on BBC's Channel 4 entitled "How to Build a Bionic Man." Here's a preview:

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RobotsLab Wants to Put a Box of Robots in Every Classroom

This is the RobotsLab Box. It's a giant box, and it's full of robots. As if that wasn't enough, it's also full of a tablet which is full of a complete STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curriculum that uses the robots as tools to show things like math and physics in action. The Box is designed to make it easy and affordable for teachers to drop a bunch of awesome robots right into the classroom, and even though I'm not a teacher or a student, I want one.

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Teeny Tiny Microcopter Deploys to Afghanistan With British Troops

It's hard to tell how tiny this helicopter is from the above pic. But it's damn tiny. It's only four inches long (about 10 centimeters), and weighs just 16 grams, but will happily carry a pan-and-tilt camera that streams video back to a base station. It's called the Black Hornet, and it's . . . adorable.

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IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, drones, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
Contact us:

Erico Guizzo
New York City
Senior Writer
Evan Ackerman
Washington, D.C.

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