Domestic Robot Maker Goes Commercial

Hot on the trail of reports of its imminent closing, Willow Garage - the firm behind domestic robot PR2 - announced that it will instead be going commercial.  

"Willow Garage has decided to enter the world of commercial opportunities with an eye to becoming a self-sustaining company," said the company's blog on Monday. "This is an important change to our funding model.

As described in Willow Garage's video overview for the PR2, the domestic robot's goal is "to provide a common platform that people can build on top of and extend and can also share the results on more effectively."

The video goes on to show how Willow Garage experimented with the PR2 in ways that would allow the bot to service its user by, say, opening a door. Other demo videos show the PR2 fetching a beer, cleaning up a room with a cart, and even playing pool.   

With a reported 50 PR2 robots in the world, Willow Garage confirmed that "[t]he success of the PR2 personal robot and of ROS [Robot Operating System] will continue" and that its "support of the platform will not diminish."   

Being an open source platform [allowing for the free collaboration amongst the programming community to make future improvements on its own], the ROS "will continue independent of our business model choices," according to Willow Garage, which referred to the system that "provides libraries and tools to help software developers create robot applications" as "the platform of choice for Robotics."

ROS' supporters include the Open Source Robotics Foundation, whose mission is to "support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development."

Google search engine co-designer Scott Hassan founded Willow Garage in 2006, and since then the company has been dedicated to producing open source robotic technology/systems such as the ROS, PR2, and electronic sibling TurtleBot (an ambulatory shelf that can take panoramic pictures and serve food/drinks, etc.).

It is speculated by some that Willow Garage's blog announcement about going commercial was a possible response to unconfirmed rumors that the company made a very different pronouncement on Friday, Feb. 8 about its dissolving within a few months.

Despite its being nominated for Carnegie Mellon University's Robot Hall of Fame in August 2012, the PR2 - at an inaccessible value of $400,000 each - hasn't been much of a direct boost for Willow Garage's sales or sustainability.

Thus, the company's bold decision to continue ROS research while entering the commercial forum may just keep the makers of a potential Johnny 5 alive.

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