August 30, 2013      

After seven years of innovative research and development, Willow Garage decided to focus its efforts elsewhere, transferring most employees to one of its spin-off companies, Suitable Technologies, Inc.

Suitable will use its new resources to develop and build actual products rather than just working on R&D, as was Willow?s mission.

New goal, new markets

Willow Garage?s goal as a company (founded in 2006) was to integrate ?personal robotic applications [into] everyday life.? The company worked toward that goal by developing, among other innovative projects, the PR2 personal robot.

Willow also played a large role in creating and founding ROS (the Robot Operating System). This revolutionary open source technology allows developers to write their own software for use in robot applications.

Scott Hassan, CEO of both Willow Garage and Suitable Technologies, decided that it was more beneficial for Willow to concentrate its talents elsewhere.

Originally, he wanted to make autonomous personal robots, but says he discovered there was no market for them: ?An ecosystem has not been built up around personal robotics yet. The goal was to do amazing things in robotics, and to really develop platforms so that someone who wanted robots to be in the world could actually accomplish that.?

From PR2 and ROS to Beam

Looking at Willow?s accomplishments, it?s safe to say they have done just that: ROS and robots such as the PR2 are a great starting point for widespread personal robotics. Now Hassan can concentrate on a new area: remote presence. Suitable Technologies is currently developing Beam, a remote presence system. With its new resources, they hope to further product development and sales.

?[A human brain] is something that we can?t even come close to with computers? That?s why I always want to have a person in the loop,? says Hassan on the topic of his new goals. Beam would give somebody an ability to work remotely and instantly place-shift through the use of video conferencing over WiFi or a cellular 4G LTE connection.

It would always be controlled by the person using it. ?The nice thing about remote presence is that it answers a very fundamental problem of whether robots are going to take away our jobs,? says Hassan. ?I think that it?s going to take away some jobs, but it?s actually going to create more jobs than it takes over.?

Of Willow Garage, the press release from Suitable said, ?Willow Garage will continue to support customers of its PR2 personal robotics platform and sell its remaining stock of PR2 systems.? From here on out, Beam production will be the main priority though.