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This image of a robot arm, developed by the Stanford Research Institute, is similar to the one that appeared in the 1976 NSF Annual Report. The robotic system used computer vision to identify and make decisions about parts on an assembly line. This is one of several projects from that era aimed at improving the productivity of American manufacturing processes. Credit: SRI International
This image of a robot arm, developed by the Stanford Research Institute, is similar to the one that appeared in the 1976 NSF Annual Report. The robotic system used computer vision to identify and make decisions about parts on an assembly line. This is one of several projects from that era aimed at improving the productivity of American manufacturing processes. Credit: SRI International

The fundamental research in computing and engineering that has enabled robotics to develop in the US has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) since its inception. Yet despite these early investments in sensors, machine movement and computer vision, it wasn’t until 1972 that the first grant with “robot” in the title was funded in the US .

SupraPed robotic platform designed at Stanford uses smart staffs to improve balance, mobility.

by   -   February 12, 2013

Robohub - PR2 waving

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.