Ever since, um, stuff happened at Willow Garage about a year ago, there's been some question as to the fate of the 40 or so PR2s out there and those still in stock (yes, they're still for sale). It's not difficult to imagine that existing PR2 owners and prospective buyers want to be assured that support is available and will remain available for a reasonable period of time. If you're one of those people, good news: Canadian company Clearpath Robotics has been selected to provide PR2 support through 2016.
You may remember Clearpath from such robots as the Kingfisher and the Grizzly, and seeing as they build a variety of advanced research-grade robotic systems, they seem like a good fit to do all of the PR2 service and support going forward. From the press release:
Willow Garage, the developer of PR2, announces the immediate transfer of support and services responsibilities to Clearpath Robotics, a leader in mobile robotics for research and development. Willow Garage’s development of PR2 along with the Robot Operating System (ROS) has produced the world’s leading mobile manipulation platform for research and development. Willow Garage will continue to sell its remaining stock of PR2 systems while Clearpath Robotics now becomes the sole provider of hardware and software support to current and future PR2 customers.
Clearpath has committed to at least three years of support, which will get you and your PR2 until the end of 2016 in good health. After that, Clearpath will determine whether further support is warranted, which is another way of saying that whether PR2s are supported after 2017 depends on whether enough people are still using them three years from now.
Not to be pessimistic or anything, but the PR2 was introduced in 2010, and seven years is a long time in the hardware world. With solid support, though, it's certainly conceivable that we'll have these amazing robots still contributing to research several years into the future.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum’s award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan’s work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR’s Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.