This morning, as we got into the office, some interesting news was awaiting us in the Inbox.
Willow Garage is changing
Submitted by Steve Cousins on Mon, 02/11/2013 – 23:18
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.
The success of the PR2 personal robot and of ROS will continue. There are close to 50 PR2 robots in the world and Willow Garage support of the platform will not diminish. And of course, ROS, as an open source platform, will continue independent of our business model choices. In addition to Willow Garage, its supporters include the Open Source Robotics Foundation and all the other contributors in the ROS community (academic, industrial and individual) who have made it the platform of choice for Robotics.
Erico and Evan got the news from various current and former Willow employees, so we assume that other members of the Willow Garage family were surprised.
But for our money, it sounds like Willow Garage is evolving as it should.
Willow Garage History
Scott Hassan founded Willow Garage in late 2006 to accelerate the development of non-military robotics and advance open source robotics software. Named as an homage to the garages that spawned the computer industry, he envisioned an innovative research lab infused with the engineering expertise of a product development company. The goal was simple: to push the frontiers of robotics, both scientifically and commercially. Scott put together a funding package with the unique goals of impact first, return on capital second, with the strong belief that success in the first goal (impact) would provide plenty of opportunities to excel at the second (return on capital). [emphasis ours]
Scott handpicked Steve Cousins to lead Willow into this focus on impact and research first, to enable the development of technologies that were not tied to DOE, DARPA or other military sources of funding.
Over two years ago, Willow had their PR2 launch which showed off the first 11 PR2s going off into the world to help forward robotics. Scott was enthusiastic about the future of robotics and PR2 started the effort (see this video).
Since then, Willow has spun out the Texai project (now at Suitable Tech selling the Beam) with Scott being the CEO of Suitable.
Since then, Willow has spun out the Open Source Robotics Foundation keepers of ROS, Industrial Perception, hiDOF — all given capital funding from Willow Garage (see here, here and here).
So, since the major projects have been spun out — with the exception of the PR2 or the PR2 SE or TurtleBot. And one of the lines from Steve’s post stands out:
The success of the PR2 personal robot and of ROS will continue. There are close to 50 PR2 robots in the world and Willow Garage support of the platform will not diminish. And of course, ROS, as an open source platform, will continue independent of our business model choices. [emphasis ours]
So, it would be our thought that the research-side of Willow Garage may be shrinking and the entity may continue to drive forward the dream of a low-cost, high-functioning robot like the PR2 SE or the much desired PR3 (yeah, never know if it may happen).
While we may not get details any time soon on whether or not the research side of Willow is going to change, the impact of Willow and her alumni will still reverberate across the robotics world. A hearty applause should be given to the teams of people that both Scott and Steve were able to bring to that little hamlet in Menlo Park.
(h/t to Fred Nikoghar and Tim Lenihan of Anybots)