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Opening Doors on the Way to a Personal Robot

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Willow Garage's PR2 robot

The prototype of Willow Garage's PR2 robot recharging itself at the company's headquarters.

Credit: Ken Conley / Willow Garage

The ability to open doors is a significant step forward for robotics and an important milestone toward a personal robot industry. Such a milestone has been reached with Willow Garage's PR2, an experimental wheeled machine that was able to open and pass through 10 doors and plug itself into 10 standard wall sockets to recharge itself in less than 60 minutes. The PR2 has a maximum travel speed of 1.25 miles per hour, and it perceives its surroundings with a combination of sensors that include scanning lasers and video cameras. Stanford University roboticist Andrew Ng says PR2 appears to be the first robot capable of repeatedly and reliably opening doors and plugging itself in.

Willow Garage is attempting to develop a new generation of robotic personal assistants by building a Robot Operating System (ROS), an open source project that seeks to take advantage of contributions from robotics experts around the world. Willow Garage CEO Steve Cousins says that a team of University of Tokyo roboticists recently tweaked the Willow Garage ROS to function on a machine they were developing. "The eventual goal is to provide a set of capabilities that are so generic and so universal that they can be used as building blocks in more complicated applications," says Willow Garage board member and Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Sebastian Thrun.

View a video of the PR2 robot.

From The New York Times
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