June 12th, 2009


Willow Garage robot hits milestone 2: Smart enough to find its own food.


We've mentioned Willow Garage before. They're a robot startup company founded by one of the original Google designers. They're developing PR2, a robot they hope will lay the groundwork for future, commercially produced personal robots. They've just reached "milestone 2" in their R&D plan. PR2 has succeeded in completing a test run through a crowded office environment that included human obstacles. The robot was able to open and pass through eight conventional doors and plug itself into nine different standard AC power outlets. The video above shows a time lapse of the test run which took nearly an hour to complete.

For Milestone 2, our tester designated ten different outlets that the robot was required to plug into, although only nine of the selected outlets were physically reachable. The robot was expected to successfully detect that one of its ten goal outlets was behind a locked door, abort that effort, and move on to its next outlet. The rest of the doors were placed in various states of closed, partially opened, and fully open.

In addition to the PR2 hardware Willow Garage is developing software called ROS (Robot Operating System), a low-level control library for robots. Despite the name, ROS actually lives on top of a conventional Unix-style OS such as GNU/Linux. ROS is Open Source software, licensed under the BSD license (so it also meets the definition of Free Software).