Willow Garage is one of the most exciting companies working in robotics today, mainly thanks to its vision of an open-source development environment. Their 30 minute presentation at IREX 2009 titled “A Platform for Personal Robotics” (full presentation videos after the break) begins with the similarities between early computers and the current state of personal robotics and what lessons they have taken from this to speed up development. Specifically, the need for a hardware platform is a huge hurdle to overcome before real progress can take place.
The question is: what robot should become the defacto platform? There are so many great looking possibilities, including POSTECH’s PHOPE (which was also present at IREX 2009) but if they don’t expand beyond the lab that developed them they are doomed to languish in a game of perpetual catch-up. The result has been a diverse and tangled set of robot applications (vision and navigation systems for example) that can only go so far. The PR2 and ROS provide a unified platform for researchers to share and integrate their results.
In part two, some of the developer applications built for their open-source operating system ROS are discussed, including their simulator. The PR2 hardware is discussed in part three. The PR2′s guts are described as a robot developer’s dream, made of two insane onboard servers, each with 8 Core i7 Xeon, 24 GB RAM, and a 2 TB Hard Drive. A breakdown of the robot’s sensor system and overall modularity is followed by some amusing videos of the PR2′s parts being put through stress tests. In part four, we hear some of the feedback from researchers working with ROS at a variety of institutions around the world. There’s also an impressive example of 3D environment reconstruction from video and laser data developed by BOSCH, the first commercial company contributing to the project.
Similarly, AIST has been developing an open-source robotics development environment for their HRP robots in Japan. While Willow Garage plans to deploy an initial 10 PR2 robots to various universities (mostly in the United States), AIST has already distributed more than a dozen HRP-2 Promet humanoid robots to various Japanese universities. AIST has also taken the initiative to develop code for ROS on the PR2 and a modified HRP-2 robot (HRP-2W, a legless wheeled version). I wonder if Willow Garage will take some time to look at AIST’s Open-HRP software and see what can be learned from it as well?