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The UBR-1 One-Armed Robot Could Put Shelf Stockers Out A Job

I have three words for you today, ladies and gentlemen: open-source robotics.

Unbounded Robotics yesterday unveiled the UBR-1, a one-armed robot loosely inspired by Willow Garage's PR2. Think of it as the PR2's smaller, more affordable cousin. See, the big problem with Willow Garage's device is the price tag - a hefty $285,000-$400,000, depending on what model you get. The UBR-1 doesn't really suffer from that: it's only $35,000.

Not really something the average consumer's going to buy, but quite worth it for the owner of a reasonably-sized organization. That's what the UBR-1 was designed for, after all: the folks at Unbound Robotics intended for it to be used to help academic researchers and to make automation more affordable for businesses. 

The UBR-1 itself is what's known as a mobile manipulation platform - a robot that can see where it's going, move on its own, and interact with objects using its arm. To help it in this, it's got a telescoping spine that allows it to rise up to 52 inches tall. On its head is a PrimeSense sensor bar which tracks information necessary for the arm's functionality, while its base has a secondary scanner that allows the UBR-1 to map its location. The arm is able to lift up to 1.5 kilograms and is equipped with a modular design, allowing customers to modify the robot in whatever fashion suits their needs. 

The device is further designed to interact and work with humans, then packed it with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8 Gigs of RAM and a 120 gig hard drive. The operating system is the open-source component, and represents the culmination of about two years of work on the part of Unbounded. Using this software platform, users can control the UBR-1 in one of three ways: either by wielding a PS3 controller to manually drive it, manual manipulation of the arms, or via a series of software commands entered into the robot's interface. 

The UBR-1 and Unbounded Robotics were born - according to CEO Melonee Wise - out of a desire to create a more affordable alternative to the PR2 and a weariness over the extended timelines they'd been working with at Willow Garage. 

"While UBR-1 is not specifically designed as the heir apparent for the PR2, we take pride in the comparison," explained an Unbounded representative. "UBR-1 offers a far more sophisticated platform than the PR2, however, which was originally designed more than five years ago. At a list price of $35,000, UBR-1 is also approximately one-tenth the cost of the PR2. UBR-1 is also capable of being deployed in business automation scenarios."