AI News, Willow Garage Introduces PR2 SE, Half the Arms at Half the Price

Willow Garage Introduces PR2 SE, Half the Arms at Half the Price

Despite having only half the armament of the original PR2, the SE boasts the same overall capabilities, along with an 'updated sensor suite' that includes an integrated Microsoft Kinect.

Lack of an entire arm may seem like a fairly significant issue for a robot, but many things that you can do with two arms you can also do with one, it just may take longer or require a bit more creativity.

And anyway, as long as you make sure that the robot is only visible from the right side in your lab, you'll be able to fool people into thinking that you've got an original PR2, and at the end of the day, that's what really counts.

Willow Garage slashes price, arm with PR2 SE robot

With the added 30% discount offered to individuals with a proven track record in contributions to the open source community, this integrated hardware and software platform becomes affordable for researchers receiving grants from such new programs as the NSF National Robotics Initiative.

Through bi-monthly PR2 community conference calls and special gatherings at major robotics conferences, the benefits of newly-enabled collaborations, reproducibility, and code sharing are accelerating RD in personal robotics. While more limited in capability than its dual-arm sibling, this new PR2 increases the market by allowing more scientists and engineers to explore the innovative capabilities for personal robots at a much faster pace. Bill Smart, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis is a recent PR2 owner.

Professor Smart took delivery of his robot two weeks ago. 'From a standing start (robot off, never logged into a PR2 before), two of my graduate students were able to learn a map, get the navigational stack working, and drive the robot autonomously to the chair's office on the other side of the building in less than two hours,' he reported.

In the past, researchers had to spend a substantial amount of their time building a robot and its operating system before they could start designing and deploying applications for personal robotics use in homes and offices. PR2 was first delivered to eleven leading robotics research institutions at no cost in May 2010.

Willow Garage Giving Away 11 PR2 Robots Worth Over $4 Million

Willow Garage, the Silicon Valley company dedicated to advancing open robotics, is announcing this morning that it will award 11 PR2 robots to institutions and universities around the world as part of its efforts to speed-up research and development in personal robotics.

The company, in Menlo Park, Calif., hopes that the 11 organizations [see list below] in the United States, Europe, and Japan that are receiving PR2 robots at no cost—a total worth over US $4 million—will use the robots to explore new applications and contribute back to the open-source robotics community.

An open robot platform design and built by Willow, the Personal Robot 2, or PR2, has a mobile base, two arms, a variety of sensors, and 16 CPU cores for computation.

With its PR2 Beta Program, Willow Garage hopes to foster scientific robotics research, promote the development of new tools to improve the PR2 and other robots, and also help researchers create practical demonstrations and applications of personal robotics.

For the researchers receiving a state-of-the-art personal robot platform worth several hundred thousand dollars, the possibility of working on real-world problems without having to waste time reinventing the robotic wheel, so to speak, is a big deal.

Even more significant, the researchers will be able to 'share their software for use by other groups and build on top of each other's work,' says Pieter Abbeel, the UC Berkeley professor who created the towel folding demo and is one of the PR2 recipients.

'Just as the Mac and PC hardware inspired new applications for personal computers in the 1980s, the PR2 could be the key step in making personal robots a reality,'says Ken Goldberg, an IEEE Fellow and UC Berkeley professor.

The company hopes advances in personal robotics could have an impact in a wide range of industries, including retail, health care, home care, automotive, and manufacturing.

In selecting the 11 PR2 recipients, Berger said they wanted diversity in terms of applications, but at the same time they focused on those that could make the best use of PR2's mobility and manipulation capabilities.

Their group will program the PR2 to do tidy-up tasks like clearing a table, while working on difficult underlying capabilities, like understanding how drawers and refrigerators open, how to recognize different types of objects, and how to integrate this information with the robot's map.

Their research includes creating easier ways for adults to interact with robots, and enabling robots to interact with everyday objects like drawers, lamps, and light switches.

MIT CSAIL with the proposal Mobile Manipulation in Human-Centered Environments The diverse MIT CSAIL group will use the PR2 to study the key capabilities needed by robots that operate in human-centered environments, such as safe navigation, interaction with humans via natural language, object recognition, and planning for complex goals.

Their contributions will include giving PR2 a tool belt to change its gripper on the fly, helping it track and navigate around people, and performing difficult two-arm tasks like opening spring-loaded doors.

They will continue to expand on this work in imitation learning and building and refining skill libraries, while also doing research in human-robot interaction and self-calibration for sensors.

Deep-Learning Robot Takes 10 Days to Teach Itself to Grasp

One of the goals of general purpose robots is to interact in an intelligent way with everyday objects.

Ask a robot to pick up a TV remote or a bottle of water or a toy gun and it will endlessly fumble with it—unless specifically programmed to pick up that object in a specially controlled environment.

These guys have equipped a robot called Baxter with powerful deep learning capabilities, placed a table full of ordinary objects in front of it and then left it to learn, like a baby playing in a high chair.

Pinto and Gupta programmed Baxter to grasp an object by isolating it from its neighbors, then to pick a random point in that area, rotate the grippers to a certain angle and then move the grippers down vertically to attempt a grasp.

To allow the robot to learn, Pinto and Gupta placed a variety of objects on the table in front of Baxter, and simply left it for up to 10 hours a day, without human intervention.

For example, one of these was a common sense approach in which the robot was programmed to pick up an object near its center, at its narrowest point while avoiding areas that were too narrow to grip (since the grippers could not close completely).

But at the rate robots like Baxter are learning, it won’t be long before humans lose their mastery of toothpaste world, just as they lost their mastery of the chess world almost 20 years ago.

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