Willow Garage doesn't sound like the name of a robotics firm... but there ya go. Founded by Scott Hassan - one of the designers of Google - and made up of experts in hardware and open source software, Willow Garage specializes in pushing the envelope when it comes to personal robotics.
While robots are a far cry from Star Wars droids such as R2-D2, technology is taking steps forward.
Willow Garage's Personal Robot 2 (PR2) is a great example.
Look at those muscles!
The PR2 can navigate through crowded spaces, such as an office. It can open doors (as long as they are unlocked), find an electrical socket, and plug itself in to power up.
*Knock-knock* Just kidding. PR2 can't knock. So be careful what you're doing in your office...
Thanks to a 1.3kWh battery, the this robot can tool around for between three to six hours before tapping some current.
PR2's equivalent to hanging out at the local bar
Four Intel Core 2 Duo computers are onboard, with room for upgrades. It can be accessed via a WLAN and sports a 16-port gigabit Ethernet hub. All of this is accessed via Willow Garage's open system software platform, ROS (Robot Operating System or Robot Open Source).It was built to near human proportions for a reason. The goal is to design a robot that can perform everyday tasks in a standard work environment. The robot's physical platform is something akin to an Erector Set. The concepts of finding power, soldering, and communication protocol are essentially solved. This frees the user of the robot of many issues, allowing him/her to focus on issues that are work-related.
In other words, this thing is built for expansion and experimentation.
The benefits of this are huge when you think in larger terms. Picture a giant load-lifter in a warehouse, or a semi-autonomous crane at a shipping port... Sure, these aren't personal robots. But the applications are quite widespread for a device such as this.
The PR2 is still in the experimental stage, so we don't quite have an R2 unit yet. For example, it took 58 minutes to tool through the Willow Garage offices to hit it's second milestone:
So, though we're miles away from some of the robots in science fiction, companies like Willow Garage are paving the way.
Hopefully it won't lead to something like this:
And if it does, let's hope it takes 58 minutes for the robot to move across the street...
Sorry... couldn't help myself...
SOURCES: Willow Garage, Engaget, Robot Magazine