used to work for Cousins. I briefly
had the chance to meet Hassan
when Cousins introduced us on one
of my trips to WG. I could certainly
see why the both of them have
become so successful.
The first products of Willow
Garage were the $400K PR2 robot
and the Kinect sensor-based
TurtleBot robot — all based on ROS.
Fifty PR2s were built and 11 were
given away at no cost to major
robotics research labs. The 11
university recipients of the donated
PR2 robots are shown in Figure 2
with their new robots.
A test platform PR2 is shown in
Figure 3. It is easy to see why this
expertly-crafted and machined robot
cost $400K. Of course, if your
company was on a budget, you
could buy a one arm PR2 SE for a
mere $285K, and the cheaper robot
had a nice updated sensor suite.
PR2’s 7-DOF arm wrapped around
me in Figure 4 at Willow Garage’s
booth at RoboGames illustrates the
dexterity of the arms. What is more
important than arm dexterity is
WG’s emphasis on ROS,
telepresence, and the amazing PR2,
as seen in the posters and the two
robots on display.
Evolves into Many
In February 2014, Hassan shocked
the robotics world by announcing the
closure of Willow Garage. News
reports were not very clear on the
decision, but it is thought that Hassan
felt that WG had served its purpose to
develop open source robotic software
that would meld seamlessly with a
variety of robotic platforms. After all,
he had invested over $20 million of his
own money that resulted in eight
successful spinoffs and an entirely new
force in the robotics field.
In a later interview for Robotics
Business Review, Cousins spoke of
their development of a much
simpler robot: “Even at Willow
Garage, we went from a PR2 with
two 7-DOF arms designed for a
much broader set of tasks to
basically move around human
environments and perform human
tasks, down to a one-armed robot
called Platform Bot (shown in Figure
5). The concept was later spun off as
Unbounded Robotics, headed by
Melonee Wise, WG’s second
employee. I will write about her
The TurtleBot shown in Figure 6
was developed as an educational tool
using the ROS language. The
and the iRobot
on a lower
program manager and later Manager
of Robot Development) was the co-developer of the robot and spent half
a day instructing me in ROS, as well as
showing me how the robot utilized the
Kinect’s images for navigation.
Another project at WG involved
building telepresence robots (shown in
Figure 7) that the WG team called
Texai; the technology was later used in
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Advances in robots and robotics over the years.
SERVO 01.2017 61
Figure 2. Eleven PR2 robots and the researchers
from their new homes.
Figure 5. Willow Garage platform bot.
Figure 4. Willow Garage’s PR2 and Texai
telepresence robot at RoboGames.
PR2 is a
Figure 6. Tully
Jimmy Sastra.) Figure 7. Willow