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Willow Garage’s PR2 has provided a unique, open source robotics platform to all kinds of labs and institutions that otherwise wouldn’t have access to a complex robotics system–but not to that many. For all the absolutely cool things you can do with PR2, the $400,000 price tag is prohibitive–only about two dozen commercial and academic labs have their own PR2s. So, in an attempt to make their robot more accessible, Willow Garage is introducing the PR2 SE this week, a pared-down version of the same robot costing a mere $285,000.

So how do you cut more than a hundred grand off a $400,000 robot? You start by removing one of its arms. Robot arms are complicated and expensive, and a lot of roboticists have told Willow Garage their research really doesn’t require two arms (unless you’re researching how to bake chocolate chip cookies). Cut off one arm and the price drops dramatically.

Figure in the 30 percent savings Willow Garage offers to those who show a proven track record of open source development practices, and pretty soon you’re talking about a personal robot at a price that many more universities and other institutions can justify. That’s good for robotics, good for the open source community, and good for Willow Garage. PR2 doesn’t seem to mind either.

Plus, the PR2 SE comes with an updated sensor suite (which as yet has not been fully defined) to offset the loss of that arm, an added value that PR2 SE would likely applaud–if it could.

[Willow Garage via SmartPlanet]

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