Friday, April 11, 2008

Robotics start-up Willow Garage believes open source OS will soon put robots in our homes

If Menlo Park-based start-up Willow Garage has its way, in just a few years you’ll be able to hire a robot to come and clean your house once a week.

The company is building open-source robots and giving them away to university research groups in an attempt to fuel quick improvements to the operating system and rapid build-out of applications to run on it.

The company plans to deliver 10 robots to US universities by the end of the year, says Willow Garage president and CEO, Steve Cousins. “We might deliver more robots later, maybe up to 50″, he says. The company will release its open source software at the same time.

“You have to have the device to start inventing applications,” Cousins says. “Usually the first step in building a robot is to create the hardware and then the software. Now we give a ready made platform for research groups to start from.”

He compares the development of personal robots to the revolution of the personal computers: When the first ones came out, nobody knew what to do with them. But then the development got started.

Privately-funded research lab Willow Garage was silently founded last year by Scott Hassan, the chairman of the board, who helped Larry Page and Sergey Brin to develop Google’s technology back in the ’90s. Hassan was also founder of eGroups, a group email messaging company bought by Yahoo Groups in 2000 for about 450 million dollars. And presumably those funds are at least partly responsible for powering Willow Garage, although Hassan won’t say where his funding comes from. Read more here.

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