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iRobot and Willow Garage Debate Closed vs. Open Source Robotics at Cocktail Party

In this guest post, Frank Tobe, a robotics analyst and publisher of The Robot Report, describes a recent debate between two prominent robotics executives and their opposing views on how to nurture profitable robotics businesses.

iRobot Colin Angle, Willow Garage Bob Bauer
Left: Colin Angle, co-founder and CEO of iRobot, in Bedford, Mass. Right: Robert Bauer, executive director for commercialization at Willow Garage in Menlo Park, Calif.

What's the best approach to building commercially successful robotics companies: To develop specific, proprietary products that satisfy the needs of large markets, or to develop and share free, open-source technologies and wait for the commercial applications to emerge?

These two points of view were presented by executives from iRobot and Willow Garage in a spirited cocktail party debate the other evening in Lyon, France, at InnoRobo 2012, a trade show for service robotics. Here's how it happened, who they were, and what they said.

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The Pirate Bay Planning 'Low Orbit Server Drones'

The Pirate Bay, the file-sharing site, has, at this point, generally accepted the fact that their front-end servers are perpetually at risk of being confiscated by some government or other that they've ticked off with their crazy ideas of freedom of information. Whether or not you agree with what The Pirate Bay represents, you can probably understand the seriousness of what they're up against, so it's not really that surprising that they've been looking for a place a bit more out of reach to stash their hardware. Their latest idea? Low Orbit Server Drones.

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Robotics Trends for 2012

What's in store for robotics in 2012? Nearly a quarter of the year is already behind us, but we thought we'd spend some time looking at the months ahead and make some predictions about what’s going to be big in robotics.

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Amazon Acquires Kiva Systems for $775 Million

Kiva Systems warehouse robots
Photo: Joel Eden Photography/Kiva Systems

Looks like Amazon is getting some robots. LOTS of robots.

The giant online retailer announced today that it is acquiring Kiva Systems, a North Reading, Mass.-based company that invented a revolutionary way of managing vast warehouses by using fleets of mobile robots to sort, organize, and transport inventory.

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Our First Look Inside SAFFiR, the U.S. Navy's Firefighting Robot

When we posted about SAFFiR last week (the firefighting robot being developed by Virginia Tech's Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory), the best we could offer you in terms of imagery was a picture of CHARLI, a diagram, and a gratis screenshot of a flaming Terminator robot. Now Dr. Dennis Hong, the director of RoMeLa, wrote in to share these pics of what SAFFiR actually looks like right now.

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iRobot Introduces New Scooba 390, Ducky Not Included

Today, iRobot is introducing the new Scooba 390. No, it's not the little round robot in the picture above: that's the Scooba 230. And no, it's not the yellow thing either: that's a ducky, and it's sold separately. The Scooba 390 (in the back of the pic, if you're still wondering) is a lot like its predecessor, the Scooba 380. It's nothing completely new or revolutionary, but there are a few unique features that we're at least a little bit excited about.

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Breaking News: Rattlesnakes Don't Like RoboSquirrels

Animals generally tend to treat robots with either indifference or, more commonly, curiosity. After all, robots are clearly not food, and they're not usually threatening, so more often than not, animals are satisfied to just try and figure out what the heck is going on. Most of the time. Turns out, if you build a robot that's deliberately designed to provoke an animal, that works out pretty well too. Meet RoboSquirrel.

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IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, featuring news, articles, and videos on robots, humanoids, automation, artificial intelligence, and more.
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