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Willow Garage

by   -   May 21, 2012


This video introduces TurtleBot 2, which was shown this past weekend at ROSCon 2012. TurtleBot 2, built around an iClebo Kobuki from Korean firm Yujin Robot, improves upon the original from Willow Garage. (Note that Sam Park, Executive Vice President of Yujin Robot, recently joined Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage, on the board of directors for the Open Source Robotics Foundation.)

by   -   May 17, 2012

OSRF logo
Announced via the Willow Garage website, the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) is an independent non-profit organization founded by members of the global robotics community. Its mission is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development. OSRF’s board of directors includes Professor Wolfram Burgard of the University of Freiburg, Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics, Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage, Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks, and Sam Park, Executive Vice President of Yujin Robot. Initially sponsored projects include the Robot Operating System (ROS), and Gazebo, a 3D multi-robot simulator with dynamics. Gazebo has been chosen by DARPA as the simulation platform for its recently announced robotics challenge for (humanoid) disaster robots.

by   -   April 20, 2012

MEGA Startup Weekend proved that you can mix startups and robots together and build new robot businesses. Now we need to work out how to repeat the success. It’s clear now that having real robot platforms is very inspiring. So is providing soldering irons, arduinos, and other materials like moldable plastics. But most of the teams who hacked on a robot platform or built their own robot still had to make trips to the shops.

The real story of our success was the roboticists, our robot mentors or demo coaches. These amazing people came early and stayed till midnight, even when their robot platform wasn’t being used [Elad Inbar of The Robot App Store and Ted Larson of Oddwerx]. Then they went home and built more robots to bring in [Tully Foote – Willow Garage]. They pulled apart their own personal robots [Melonee Wise – Willow Garage] to provide parts for teams. They flew in from far away [Ross Ingram and Adam Wilson – Sphero, Harsha Kikkeri and Jay Beavers – Microsoft Robotics] bringing boxes of robots and giving them away as prizes to the winning teams. But mainly they gave away their time, smiling. We were all inspired by the robot track, but it was the roboticists that really did it.

MEGA Startup Weekend 2012
Harsha Kikkeri, robot mentor from Microsoft Robotics at MEGA Startup Weekend, April 13-15, 2012.
Photo/image credit: Erica Kawamoto Hsu

Rodney Brooks, from iRobot, recently said that the real question for robotics now isn’t “what CAN a robot do?”, it’s “what SHOULD a robot do?” Startup Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to test assumptions about what a robot should do, to do it rapidly, to iterate and to validate. While we had some very good robot businesses, the winning team, “Eyes on Demand” had an incredibly strong value proposition, achievable cheaply with available technology.

The team had a strong connection to a section of the community, people with impaired vision, and the team understood the real pain points, eg. reading mail or food labels. They started with a clear problem and then looked to available affordable technology and put things together in a new way. This democratization of robotics technology, as seen in the DIY drone community, is something we’ve all been waiting for.

Although world domination through robots and startups is definitely on our agenda, Robot Launch Pad is a small group in the Silicon Valley area just starting to grow. We were both touched and surprised to be contacted recently by Paul Doyle, Head of ACCESS, Research and Development at Hereward College, UK. Paul wanted us to hurry up and get people making real affordable robots for people with disabilities. He foresaw the possibilities of rapid prototyping and the startup movement.

“Hereward College in the UK supports many students with physical sensory and cognitive impairments. For years we have been awaiting the arrival of the practical assistive robot as many of our students could and should benefit from their availability.

What we have currently is a number of high cost ubiquitous machines, with little or no practical application in the real world.”

Paul wanted to know if there were any DIY robots coming in the future and to inspire us to build robot solutions based on affordable technology, easy for consumers and staff to work with and replace. Of course we still need sophisticated robots, but MEGA Startup Weekend proves that we can iterate around existing technologies, putting people centered design at the heart of robots. I was delighted to tell Paul about “Eyes on Demand”. He was thrilled too, and his whole college wants to be first customers. I think there’ll be quite a queue!

MEGA Startup Weekend was a MEGA success for robotics. And created a new hybrid event, a mashup of startup weekend and hackathon, with arguably the best of both worlds. I think I got Shacked Up this weekend.

by   -   March 22, 2012

What’s the best approach to building commercially successful robotics companies? Here are two arguments from two prominent people in the robotics industry:

  1. Identify a need that can be filled with a robotic solution in a large marketplace and build a practical and specialized robotic product to satisfy that need.
  2. Make it free and easy to design, program, simulate and test robotic applications and share your progress, problems and results with others all over the world using a common platform and the applications will come.

These two points of view were presented in a spirited cocktail party debate the other evening in Lyon, France at InnoRobo 2012, an innovation forum and trade show for service robotics. Here’s how it happened, who they were, and what they said.

by   -   March 22, 2012
A version of this post originally appeared on Automaton, IEEE Spectrum’s robotics blog.
By Frank Tobe, editor/publisher, The Robot Report

What’s the best approach to building commercially successful robotics companies? Here are two arguments from two prominent people in the robotics industry:

  1. Identify a need that can be filled with a robotic solution in a large marketplace and build a practical and specialized robotic product to satisfy that need.
  2. Make it free and easy to design, program, simulate and test robotic applications and share your progress, problems and results with others all over the world using a common platform and the applications will come.

These two points of view were presented in a spirited cocktail party debate the other evening in Lyon, France at InnoRobo 2012, an innovation forum and trade show for service robotics. Here’s how it happened, who they were, and what they said.

Left: Robert Bauer, Executive Director, Commercialization, Willow Garage, a privately held corporation.
Right: Colin Angle, Chairman of the Board, co-founder and CEO, iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT).

I interviewed Colin Angle shortly after he gave a presentation about the need for robotic solutions in health care and asked him, amongst other questions, what he thought about Willow Garage’s ROS open source software concept. He said he thought it was dangerous to the industry and was fearful that it was also detrimental to the monetizing of the service robotics sector in particular.

Later I was meeting with Tim Field from Willow Garage when Robert Bauer joined the conversation. Bauer was a substitute Willow Garage speaker because Steve Cousins had to alter his travel plans. In his presentation, Bauer made the point that hardware was farther along than AI software and that AI, 3D and application software were where the robotics industry needed help.

Out of fun I told Bauer what Angle said and he became feisty and said he’d love to debate Angle as to which method contributed more to product development and commercialization.

Coincidentally, at a cocktail party for speakers, exhibitors and hosts that same evening, I was casually talking with Bauer when Angle came by to say hello to me and I introduced him to Bauer — and the fun began.

Angle suggested that freely providing such a key and critical component as the robotic operating and simulation system – and the extensive libraries that go with ROS – as Willow Garage does with their open source and unprotected robotic operating system (ROS) – was tantamount to letting the biggest consumer giant(s) gobble up any mass market applications and re-market them globally at low cost because they already have (or could easily reverse-engineer) the hardware, could produce it cheaply, the operating system was free courtesy of ROS, and the only real cost was the acquisition of the application(s).

Cover of 3/19/2012 issue of
Bloomberg Businessweek magazine

Angle thought that it was dangerous and led to losing a potentially American/European market to offshore commodity conglomerates and said:

Robotics innovation represents a tremendous opportunity for economic growth akin to automobiles, aerospace and information technology. If we are to freely share our ‘intellectual capital’ on the open market we risk losing the economic engine that will advance our economies and send growth and jobs overseas.

The issue of losing trade secrets to foreign conglomerates was the subject of this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. Here’s a particularly relevant quote from the cover story – and keep in mind that the operating system mentioned was protected but hacked; nevertheless the story is relevant to this discussion:

In November, 14 U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report describing a far-reaching industrial espionage campaign by Chinese spy agencies. This campaign has been in the works for years and targets a swath of industries: biotechnology, telecommunications, and nanotechnology, as well as clean energy.

As the toll adds up, political leaders and intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe are coming to a disturbing conclusion. “It’s the greatest transfer of wealth in history,” General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said at a security conference at New York’s Fordham University in January.

[The article went on to describe the plight of AMSC, an American wind turbine developer, as they discovered that not only had their software been stolen, but Chinese companies had duplicated most of their component parts as well.] 

AMSC technicians tapped into the turbine’s computer to get to the bottom of the glitch. The problem wasn’t immediately clear, so the technicians made a copy of the control system’s software and sent it to the company’s research center which produced some startling findings. The Sinovel turbine appeared to be running a stolen version of AMSC’s software. Worse, the software revealed that Sinovel had complete access to AMSC’s proprietary source code. In short, Sinovel didn’t really need AMSC anymore.

On April 5, AMSC had no choice but to announce that Sinovel—its biggest customer, accounting for more than two-thirds of the company’s $315 million in revenue in 2010—had stopped making purchases. Investors fled, erasing 40 percent of AMSC’s value in a single day and 84 percent of it by September. The company’s stock chart looks like the EKG of a person rushing toward white light.

Colin Angle has consistently held that we are going about developing the robotics industry wrong: “The idea that a humanoid robot with arms would push a vacuum cleaner is an image that has set many expectations and, in some ways, has set back the industry,” when, by just rethinking what needs to be done, we can build a product that satisfies a specific need (vacuuming), as iRobot did with their Roomba line of robotic vacuums. “I used to think that I was a self-respecting high-tech entrepreneur, but it took me becoming a vacuum cleaner salesman to actually have some success for my company, my investors and myself.”

Bauer said that Willow Garage’s objectives were to stimulate the industry by enabling participants to not have to reinvent the many cross-science elements of robotics ventures; to reuse software under the premise that by so doing it saves developer time and allows researchers to focus on research. By giving them free access to the tools, libraries and simulation capabilities of ROS, its many libraries, and access to the PR2s that are available for testing and experimentation, Willow Garage hopes to advance the state-of-the-art in autonomous robotics technologies. Says Steve Cousins, CEO, “We want everyone to work together. We’re happy having a smaller piece of the pie, but having the pie be much bigger.”

Bauer also said that, once a successful app was developed, then the new endeavor would likely lock down the operating system and application software in order to protect their invention.

Kiva Systems shelf-moving robots.
They slip under the shelves, screw themselves tight, and then bring the shelves to the picker/packers.

Supporting Angle’s position to find a problem and develop a unique robotic solution is today’s news that Amazon has acquired Kiva Systems (for $775 million!). Kiva Systems is the company that turned warehousing upside down by using robots to bring shelves to the pickers and packers instead of vice versa.

To Bauer, Angle suggested that ROS itself could be locked down, protected, and commercialized now – and that it should be done right away – and that what the robotic industry needs for inspiration is winning robotics companies – profitable companies with millionaire employees selling in-demand products, as would happen if ROS privatized; not more notches on the oversized belts of big offshore conglomerates. But he also said that unless ROS is protected and made stable and secure, it could never be used for sensitive (defense, space, security) solutions, and until it became rugged, secure and stable, it could never be used in factories that cannot afford down time from their robots or software.

He said it would make him happy if all the people that displayed their robots at Innorobo were successful and wealthy, but that the opposite was more likely because the right big-market robotic applications hadn’t happened just yet.

The discussion went on and ended with Bauer inviting Angle to continue the discussion onsite at Willow Garage and Angle agreeing to do it.

I hope I have presented the two positions fairly because I think that both sides have merit. Using the analogy that developing apps for smartphones and tablets is similar to developing applications for service robots in the open source community of shared libraries, imagine how much talent is being squandered in the whimsy of making a fun app? Do we have to sift through the chaos and diversity of thousands of apps to find the few – if any – that are suitable for real business tasks? Or would we be better served to rethink how we satisfy real needs by building specific products to satisfy those needs?

What do you think?

by   -   February 15, 2012

Adept Technology appears to be bridging the gap between industrial robotics and the very real need for safer, more flexible, vision-enabled, mobile and easily trainable service robots. Today they announced a collaboration with Willow Garage to harness Willow Garage’s ROS (robotic operating system) so that new methods can be used to control, simulate and program legacy industrial robots.
Read how they are entering the material handling marketplace as an OEM, a components provider, and partner with other OEMs.

by   -   December 6, 2011

Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use, and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when — or even if — this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world.

Bill Gates, Scientific American Reports
2008 Special Edition on Robotics
by   -   May 5, 2010

Two heads are generally better than one, and while that truism doesn’t necessarily scale very well, it can and often does in the open source software movement.

 

Willow Garage is out to make it happen in robotics.

 

They not only have developed a robot, the PR2, with sufficient dexterity to fold towels, and given eleven of these to research institutions around the world, but they’ve also released “an open-source, meta-operating system” for robots, called ROS, which you can download and use for free.

 

This is a great beginning, and could prove to be the seed of what develops into a standard platform.

 

Reposted from Cultibotics.



Swarms in Space
May 10, 2021


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