The robots are definitely coming


berger_pr2Willow Garage, a robotics research facility here in Menlo Park, may be my most favorite InMenlo assignment to date. This past Wednesday, CEO Steve Cousins was kind enough to take me through the large, bustling plant, where there are futuristic wonders  to be discovered at every turn.

Privately funded Willow Garage is developing advanced robots – both hardware and software – with the goal of advancing robotics to the tipping point (still thought to be many years hence) at which the field will advance rapidly to the eve of, say, affordable domestic robots that can load dishwashers and perform other simple chores (remember Rosie the robot maid on The Jetsons?).

With nearly as many robots as humans, the corridors at Willow Garage are busy. Autonomous robots known as the PR2 (Personal Robot 2) can navigate the halls, open doors (first making sure the door is unlocked by gently trying the knob), find outlets and plug themselves in to recharge.

Another robot, the tall, thin Texas model, allows remote workers to interact with on-site peers via ‘telepresence.’ Indeed, while I was photographing robotics program co-director Eric Berger (inset photo, above), Dallas Goecker, a Willow Garage engineer who lives in Indiana, came over to see what was going on (you can see “him” in the background of the larger photo on InMenlo). Earlier I photographed designer Curt Meyers with some 25 of his “Texas” model, known plurally as “Texai” (top photo).

Willow Garage, in keeping with its mission, is an open source developer, and makes its software, including contributions to the Robot Operating System available online. The institution is in the process of making the (reportedly) $500,000 PR2 available to researchers, also free. We were impressed. Wow…


About Chris Gulker

Chris Gulker, a self-described Infuential Blogger, lived in Menlo Park, California with spouse Linda. He passed away in late October 2010.
This entry was posted in All, Open Source, Photos, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The robots are definitely coming

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wonder if they do anything specific to robotics like some crazy 1980’s startup or just implement standardized networking software while buying the robot from Japan. In the 1980’s most startups did crazy random inventions but nowadays they all do networking standards outsourcing.

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  3. Matthew D-G says:

    Cool! This made me think of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (the book–excellent; not the movie–terrible), in which appears the electronic, robotic monk. If you can have a robot to load the dishwasher, why not have one to manage the more esoteric parts of one’s life? A priest, a theologian, a photo-journalist and an electronic monk walk into a bar…… (one character too many, perhaps…)

  4. Chris Gulker says:

    Check their site out to be sure, but I believe Willow Garage is very much working toward a standards-based approach (via the ROS), and the robots – at least the PR2 model – are very definitely not outsourced. I watched technicians assembling modular body components in their on-site factory – a literal assembly line.

  5. Chris Gulker says:

    Hmmm… Robot Monk… I think we should write an application for one of the freebies…

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