California designers Willow Garage have created a robot for the masses - or at least the first generation of it. Enter the PR2, and start your Frankenstein Complex engines.
We're not sure it has a First Law embedded, but the guys and gals at Willow Garage are betting that the PR2 will be a boon rather than a bane to humanity.
Working on the concept that there are a great many savant robot programmers out there - brilliant people who just don't have the time and money to build a robot from scratch - Willow Garage has created the PR2 to give them a chance to strut their stuff.
And guess what? It's only $400,000.
The PR2 has wheels, arms with changeable hands, and stands 4 feet tall (though it can telescope up to 5 and a half as needed). This gives it the ability to do any number of tasks from folding socks, playing pool, or delivering mail. So far, designers from around the world have programmed it to do all of those things, and also to play rock tunes by U2 and the Beatles.
Willow Garage is attempting to tap into the Facebook and Smartphone app development market by giving the PR2 an open-source platform so that programmers can easily create and refine their own apps. With the success seen in social markets, the development platform seems like a natural fit for a company that is looking to get Robot butlers into our homes in the near future.
According to Keenan Wyrobek, co-founder of Willow Garage, "it will be a couple of years before robots get priced down to being in the house, but this is an absolutely necessary step to get there", and he's probably right. Smartphones were few and far between even five years ago, but it is a rare occurrence now to meet anyone even remotely tech-savvy that does not have one, love it or hate it.
On Tuesday, September 7th, 2010, the company began selling the robots after extensive internal and partnered testing with places like the University of California, Berkley, the University of Pennsylvania and German engineering company Bosch. So far, there have been no reports of raging, out-of-control PR2's with glowing red LED eyes or a need to"kill all humans", but instead stories of rousing success.
The most "robot butler" of all the apps developed was the sock-pairing program from U of C. When presented with two socks flat on a table, the robot was able to flip them into the correct orientation and then pair them using a vertical dowel. Aside from looking vaguely inappropriate, the sock-pairing robot app also spoke to the level of precision that could be obtained using the technology developed by Willow Garage
Though the price tag remains steep, Willow Garage is doing what it can to lessen the hit - leaders in open-source software development can speak to the company about getting a reduced-price, $280,000 robot to get their designs up and running.
Does this have the potential to be awesome? Absolutely. Does it have the potential to be horrific? You bethca.
Still, we can only imagine a day in which our shining robot butler types out our daily articles as rapidly as we speak out our genius. Good times, Willow Garage, good times.