Suitable Tech acquires Willow Garage!

This afternoon, we got a press release that was quite intriguing.

Suitable gets Willow Garage

Suitable Technologies Retains Willow Garage Talent to Further Develop Beam Remote Presence Technology

Palo Alto, Calif., August 21, 2013 – Suitable Technologies, Inc., has retained a majority of employees from Willow Garage, Inc. to increase and enhance the development of Suitable Technologies’ Beam™ remote presence system. Suitable Technologies will use the combined resources to further product development, sales and customer support.

See the full press release here.

Our take? It seems to be a good deal for both companies. Willow Garage, over the past few months, has been working on becoming an independent venture on its own. But since most of the scientific and innovation talent has gone to do their own endeavors (Open Source Robotics Foundation keepers of ROSIndustrial PerceptionhiDOF, and Unbounded Robotics), Willow was becoming more of a keeper of the PR2 flame and not able to keep such infrastructure afloat.

Bringing the two groups together (which Scott Hassan has been the head of both for sometime) gives Suitable their home once again (the predecessor of the Beam was created there) and a staff that are already versed in build and maintenance of robotic systems.

Seems like the obvious solution to the potential loss of an icon.

This entry was posted in Remote Presence News, Scott Hassan, Suitable Technologies, Willow Garage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Travis_D

    Merging isn’t a “solution” to the loss of the icon…. it’s the unfortunate conclusion. Of course, it’s good for Suitable (vetted employees without recruiting in a super-competitive landscape) and the remaining WG employees (a soft landing).

    Seeing WG dismantled this way is still very sad. I’m sure someone can “spin” it into a positive (“We always planned to do this!”)… but the reality is: this is why endowments are so crucial for quasi-research entities. Relying on the whims of a wealthy benefactor is dangerous.

    ** Incidentally… I always thought the plan was to become a robotics “nebula” where new robotics companies could grow and shine. They figured out the first half (the spinoffs), but they closed shop before the spinoffs could realize returns that could be fed back into the system. In short: the transition from research to commercialization was made without enough runway.

    /backseat driver without all the information

    • Travis – sorry for the delay in responding (looks like Discus notifications are not appearing), but the background on this is a lot more than is coverable here. Suffice it to say, Willow Garage was designed to be such a nexus – with Steve Cousins driving the research and the team behind the PR2 driving development – Willow Garage was doing amazing things.

      But it was always a focus of the lab/center/mecca to be spinning off entities and organizations. The fact that Suitable acquired the staff of Willow is about quality talent — just like any other acqui-hire.

      • Travis_D

        I realize WG’s goal was spinouts… and that’s why this was a disappointment. Based on rumors I’ve heard, one of the WG spinouts was recently acquired for a hefty sum. Presumably that would’ve resulted in a decent return that could’ve been parlayed into an operating budget for WG. Why not feed those profits back into WG rather than acquihiring away?

        I understand the acquihire from Suitable’s perspective too. Without knowing the corporate structure of WG, but guessing that it was owned almost exclusively by Hassan… I’d wager the purchase price of WG was effectively nil.** That means Suitable acquihired WG for the price of just the employee bonus packages — a great deal when Hassan’s new project needs people. But I also know that a lot of talent moved on to other gigs.

        ** Actually, I’d guess that WG remains alive as an independent corporate entity for holding onto existing spinout assets / stock, but that it just ceased daily operations and didn’t need its employees any longer.

        TL;DR: It still sounds to me like a wealthy benefactor lost interest and wanted to change direction… which happened by starting a new company entirely (rather than pivoting) and then unilaterally shutting down the old one and poaching as many employees as possible.

        ==> Again, just backseat driving. I would love to be wrong (I’ve grown cynical with age).

        • Travis – this is a much longer conversation – and one that is backseat driving. But from what I can guess – it was not just a wealthy benefactor, but actually one of the difficulties of converting research into development and a marketable product offering.

          Consider the following: PR2 was designed for research and a very targeted market. The cost was too high for “normal consumers” and there was an appetite for making a PR3, but we will never know what happened in this effort – unless one of the other spinouts will take the mantle.

          Additionally, even if one of the companies got purchased, it would have to be a great deal of capital or a serious recurring revenue stream to support the Willow Garage entity.

          But we will see another wave occur. Too much is happening that will make it a reality.

          • Travis_D

            OK, cool. I definitely believe you, and I’m glad to hear my (outsider) impressions are a bit off kilter!

            In any case… I’m so very, very thankful for how much WG / Scott / ROS / etc. contributed to my own research — they were all pretty instrumental in my PhD. Collectively, they pushed robotics really far in such a short amount of time, and I’ll be forever grateful.

            The entire industry seems to be on the upswing, so the next few years will be exciting. Oh, and if you’re going to be around for RoboBusiness… ping me. I won’t be around for (much) of the conference, but my office is less than a mile away from the venue. I’d love to grab coffee one of the days.