These are the first PR2 units sold by the company, which hopes to make the robot a common platform that users in academia and industry can tinker with and improve, sharing their results and accelerating the development of applications.Willow Garage, based in Menlo Park, Calif., has become the leading proponent of open source robotics. It has developed an open source software platform called ROS, or Robot Operating System, that is becoming widely adopted around the world, running not only on the PR2 but also on a variety of robots.
The PR2 purchase means that the ROS community is growing stronger.
The company developed the PR2 because it believed robotics researchers were burdened by the cost and time it took to develop their own robots and software. The company wants to eliminate this barrier, allowing roboticists to focus on applications for personal robotics use in homes and offices.
Each PR2, short for Personal Robot 2, costs U.S. $400,000.
The buyers announced today are: Samsung Electronics in Suwon, Korea; Laboratory of Analysis and Architecture of Systems, part of France's National Center for Scientific Research, in Toulouse; University of Washington, in Seattle; and George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.
The PR2, based on a robot built at Stanford University, is a powerful and flexible platform. It consists of an omnidirectional based equipped with two arms and grippers. It has two onboard computer servers, power system, and a sensor suite with cameras, LIDAR, inertial measurement unit, and other devices.
Early this year, Willow Garage gave away free PR2 robots to 11 institutions, as part of its beta program [see robots prior to delivery below, with the production team]. In September, the company announced that it was making the PR2 commercially available. The company says that there are now 16 research labs worldwide using the PR2.
The purchase announcement is also good news from a business point of view, of course. Several people I have talked to have wondered whether Willow Garage has a viable business model. The company was founded -- and reportedly it's still financially supported -- by Scott Hassan, a wealthy former Google architect who became a robotics enthusiast. But Willow Garage's President and CEO Steve Cousins said early this year that he expects the company to make money.
Willow Garage said in a statement that one PR2 has already arrived at Samsung Electronics, which will use it to enhance its existing robotics R&D program.
Another PR2 was delivered to Joshua R. Smith, a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The PR2 heading to France will reside at LAAS-CNRS's Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Group, headed by Rachid Alami, who plans to use the robot to develop systems for human assistance, such as housekeeping for seniors.
And at George Washington University, Evan Drumwright, a professor of computer science, is the new owner of a PR2. His focus is on discovering ways to get robots to autonomously perform occupational tasks.
Here's a video showing robots using ROS:
Images and video: Willow Garage
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.