People say the darndest things! And some of those statements add to the puzzle that is Willow Garage.
It’s not every day you get to ask pioneering robot startup founders about their journey. The Robolution panel at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna comprised Rodney Brooks from Rethink Robotics and previously iRobot, Steve Cousins from Savioke and previously Willow Garage, Noland Katter from Anybots, and Walter Wohlkinger and Michael Zillich of Blue Danube Robotics, a new startup from Vienna University. Between them the panelists have started or spunoff well over 15 robotics companies, started the first robotics venture fund and been hugely influential in shaping the current rapidly emerging robot startup space. ‘Fast, cheap and out of control’ was Brooks’s 1987 insight into robot exploration of the solar system, but is very apt today, as drivers like open source software, affordable COTS and crowdfunding expand possibilities.
So, depending on who you ask, Willow Garage is shutting down, pursuing commercial interests, or changing direction. But things are not as dire as some may think: ROS is fine (the OSRF will support it) and there are many options for Willow Garage to explore. Personally I’m hoping it will be snatched up by Stanford or another academic institution and become a research institute. But given the number of robots they have out (and their price tags!), a commercial path into the future seems even more likely. In any case, I doubt that Willow Garage will disappear just like that.
What caused the changes is that Willow’s founder and funder, Scott Hassan, has decided that it’s time to wean Willow Garage from his private financial support.