Details are pretty scarce, but it sounds like some big and possibly unfortunate changes are coming down the pike at Willow Garage, a favorite name in robotics circles. The company makes the PR2 robot, a two-armed (or optionally one-armed) robot that can do almost anything you would want your adorable robot pal to do. It’s been a huge boon for robotics researchers around the world. But it sounds like there may not be any new ones coming.
The robotics insiders over at IEEE Spectrum got word over the weekend that the company is dissolving, citing tips from several current and former employees. You can read their report here. Willow Garage replied that it’s simply changing, and offers only this cryptic statement: “Willow Garage has decided to enter the world of commercial opportunities with an eye to becoming a self-sustaining company. This is an important change to our funding model.” But the news for the robots sounds grim.
The company says PR2 successes will continue: “There are close to 50 PR2 robots in the world and Willow Garage support of the platform will not diminish,” it says. But importantly, it doesn’t say anything about future PR2s. Additionally, it notes that ROS–the open-source Robot Operating System that makes PR2 run–will continue “independent of our business model choices.”
Willow Garage reps haven’t yet replied in detail to our request for comment, other than to point to the company’s blog.
It would be hard to overstate the value of PR2 to robotics researchers in the past few years–rather than continually building new robots with new software, researchers can use one platform and one universal OS. That allows much more freedom to teach robots how to do things, not just be robots. So it would be sad news indeed if the company is changing so fundamentally that more PR2s won’t be built.