Willow Garage is offering a new version of the PR2, called the PR2 SE, aimed at universities looking to spend some of that new Robotics Initiative cash. It’s $285,000 USD ($115,000 off the standard price), and has a new sensor suite, but there’s a catch: it comes with only one arm. If you’re a proven contributor to the open source community, you’ll get 30% off ($95,000), bringing the price below $200,000.
But what if you’re not a proven contributor to the open source community? If you’re in the market for a robot and you have a budget of $300,000, why not buy the HRP-4 instead? And would you look at that, it even comes with two arms AND two legs! It also has five-fingered hands instead of simple grippers. University labs in the United States that want to stand out from the crowd could make headlines and attract students by importing Japan’s latest humanoid.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the PR2, as a hardware platform, already looks dated. It reminds me of the Mobile Robot Helper developed in the mid ’90s, which is a dinosaur by today’s standards.
If you look at KITECH’s SEROPI-2, which we just covered, it is essentially what I expect the PR3 (or 4) to look like years from now. They share the same basic configuration: a sensor head, two arms, manipulators, and a mobile base, but SEROPI-2 is much thinner, much more streamlined, and can bend down to pick things up from the floor. And it was developed at the same time as the PR2. It could even have the same sensor suite as the PR2 if they wanted it to. Sure, it may not have the same computational power, but as processors get smaller and faster, you won’t need a lumbering brute like the PR2 to house them.
Don’t get me wrong, Willow Garage is a great software company, and I think ROS is a fantastic way to unify robotics development. It’s the hardware platform which is holding things back, particularly if universities in the United States want to catch up with developments in the rest of the world. Incidentally, this is the same reason why I’m not particularly enamored with Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO, which isn’t as capable as the QRIO (which had been developed years earlier).