A new research robot was unveiled today by Unbounded Robotics that has a good chance of infiltrating robotics labs around the world. Unbounded Robotics' founding members hail from Willow Garage, where they helped to develop the PR2 (a robot famous for performing everyday tasks like folding laundry). The problem with the PR2 was its hefty price tag; at US$400,000, it was simply out of reach of most university labs. Unbounded Robotics' UBR-1 is essentially a PR2 "lite", and at $35,000 it won't break the bank.
Don't believe what the sci-fi movies tell you: when it comes to understanding our world, robots are stupid. Like computers, robots only do what we program them to do. And that's a big problem if we're ever going to realize the dream of practical robot helpers for the masses. Wouldn't it be great if anyone could teach a robot to perform a task, like they would a child? Well, that's precisely what Maya Cakmak has been working on at Willow Garage.
Suitable Technologies has revealed the Beam remote presence system, which boasts a 17-inch LCD display and reliable wireless connection thanks to four Wi-Fi radios. The same group previously developed a remote presence system called the Texai at Willow Garage
, which you may recall seeing on an episode of The Big Bang Theory
. Suitable Technologies was created specifically to refine the Texai and market it – the result was the Beam.
Spanish start-up Aisoy Robotics is marketing a new robot that, while it may look similar to the famous Furby, is actually a fully programmable research and development platform. The Aisoy1 II robot comes with a variety of sensors (touch, light, position, temperature, and camera), microphone and speaker, a 70 mini-LED matrix display (for animated lips) and includes a dialogue system for speech recognition and synthesis, as well as computer vision software for face and object recognition, all running on the Linux operating system.
Among the various scientific/industrial robots in the marketplace, Willow Garage’s PR2
is one that stands out. This is because both its hardware and software are open-source – users are encouraged to share their latest upgrades and customizations with one another. With various parties using a common platform, instead of all having to start from scratch, Willow Garage hopes to move the field of robotics forward faster than would otherwise be possible. To that end, the company recently gave ten PR2s
to groups involved in robotics research, to keep for up to two years. This Wednesday, commercial availability of the PR2 SE was announced. It costs US$285,000, which is significantly less than its sibling’s $400,000 price tag – users will just have to work around the fact that it only has one arm.
Despite all the breakthroughs in the world of robotics
, we still seem to be some way off the kind of advanced robots that can autonomously carry out a variety of tasks in unstructured and cluttered environments. One of the key bottlenecks holding back the development of such next-generation robots is how robots perceive the data gathered from their various sensors. Willow Garage, the Californian robotics company behind the PR2 open platform robot
, has teamed up with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST
) to launch an international “perception challenge” with the goal of encouraging improvements to sensing and perception technologies for next-generation robots.
Earlier this year we reported how Californian robotics company Willow Garage was giving away a number of its PR2 robots to various institutions as part of its PR2 Beta program
. Lucky PR2 recipients were asked to use the robot to pursue their research and development goals and share their progress with the open source robotics community so that the community as a whole can build on each other’s results. Now anyone can get in the act with Willow Garage officially announcing commercial availability of the robot. And if you’ve got a proven track record in the open source community you could be eligible for a hefty discount.
Back in February, we brought you the story of Willow Garage Robotics’ PR2 Beta Program
. California-based Willow Garage is giving PR2 robots to ten deserving robotics development groups, to program and customize as they wish. In exchange, those groups will enter all of their research data into an open-source software platform, so other robotics designers can learn from their successes and failures. Now, we’ve received word that a similar project is in the works in Europe. Led by the Eindhoven University of Technology, six research institutes are developing a collective worldwide online memory for robots, wherein robots can learn from each other's capabilities, thus streamlining the process of adopting new operations.
Imagine if every time someone wanted to develop a new piece of software, they first had to design and build a computer to run it. Not only would this greatly add to the time and expense required for software development, but it would also mean that all of us consumers would have to own multiple computers. Well, that’s what it’s like in the field of robotics. Because there is no robot-equivalent of the PC or Mac, every time someone wants a robot that can do something new, a new robot has to be built from scratch. Wouldn’t it be easier if there were one standard robotic platform, for which people just designed new hardware or software? Californian robotics company Willow Garage seems to think so, which is why they’re giving ten of their PR2 robots to deserving research organizations.