Willow Garage, a California startup working on an open-source personal robot, celebrated another milestone last week. Its PR2 mobile robot successfully navigated through the company's cramped office, opening doors and entering rooms and plugging its power cord into nine wall outlets -- using its own nimble arm and hand!
See the video below that shows the various situations the robot faced, including avoiding human officemates who got on its way. The PR2 looks like one persistent robot -- when it failed to pick up its plug, it repositioned itself and tried again until it was able to complete the task. But it's also clever: when it reached a locked door, it didn't try to stubbornly open it over and over -- it figured it had to ignore that room and move on.
Willow Garage designed the PR2 as a platform to help roboticists conduct research and develop applications in mobile manipulation in real human environments. At some point the company plans to provide PR2 units to other organizations, which will have to make their PR2-based work available under an open source license.
Erico Guizzo is the Director of Digital Innovation at IEEE Spectrum, and cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.