Willow Garage Blog
First photos of Base+Spine+Head (no arms yet!)
New pictures of the PR2 Forearm...
Keep reading for more photos...
Last week we celebrated the completion of our first summer intern program. We had 15 interns, mostly PhD students from top robotics programs, and a few exceptional high-school and college students. The interns either pursued their own research, or worked closely with Willow Garage engineers to help build and test components of the PR2 robot or the open source software (ROS, OpenCV, ...) that will power it.
As they left, the interns were extremely positive about their summer experience. They loved the working environment, the people, and the free lunches and snacks. But mostly they love the idea of contributing to an open source platform, building BSD-licensed software that they can continue to use back at school with no strings attached. The biggest complaint was that the PR2 robots were not completed, so they either worked on sub-components or in the simulator. This is a problem we all hope to have remedied Real Soon Now.
A big highlight for us was the way the program helped to enhance the open source robotics community. The students got to know one another well, and those relationships will now span across institutions. We know that accelerating personal robotics will require contributions from many people beyond Willow Garage, and we are happy to have these strong connections to some of the top robotics research groups.
We continue to have interns all year round, and welcome applications from enthusiastic students.
by Brian Gerkey
While Steve Cousins and I were visiting the University of Sherbrooke, I noticed that they have a Hokuyo UTM on a robot, and I mentioned that we have code in ROS to control it. One of the students in the lab said, "Of course, that's what we're using. It's a nice, self-contained library." They were able to find the code for the driver library, pull it out, and use it without using the rest of ROS.
We put a lot of thought into how to offer an integrated framework with lots of components, without requiring users of a component to use the framework. Taking inspiration from projects like CARMEN and Gearbox,our approach is to create a standalone library for each component, and then build a ROS wrapper that incorporates the library. The library can be used with or without ROS. With ROS, it immediately plays with all the other ROS nodes, and can take advantage of the ROS frameworks (e.g. for testing, system configuration, etc.). Without ROS, it's simply a library with a clean API that provides some basic robotics functionality. In the long run, as the standalone libraries stabilize, we may contribute them to a project like Gearbox, which is becoming a clearinghouse for robotics libraries.
We haven't advertised this aspect of our software architecture, or encouraged people to use ROS or its component libraries yet, but it feels great that this approach to system architecture seems to achieve our goal of code reuse by others.
6 alpha pan tilt heads are coming together. Notice the bolt pattern on the top of the head (face down on the table in these photos)
Creativity is important in a research lab: At Willow Garage, we push the envelope, test the limits, and in this case find a workaround to the law of gravity.
On Saturday, as a culmination of our our summer interns program about 30 folks from Willow Garage took a ride on G-Force One, the 727 that has been modified to provide a weightless experience for its passengers. Each zero gravity parabola provides about 30 seconds of weightlessness, followed by 20 seconds of 1.8 G's as the plane pulls out of its dive and climbs for the next cycle.
The short weightless sessions were frenzied and fun (see more pictures).We did the standard stuff: flying like superman, flipping, eating M&M's out of the air, watching water float (and then drop when gravity comes back). We also tried some new stuff. Scott brought along 400 ping pong balls and released them all at once (see the video). When my kids were little I could "bench press" them, and on this trip I pressed (tossed may be a better word) my oldest son Jonathan, who now weighs about the same as me, in moon gravity.
On the first day of the fourth month of 2008 we finally have our first arms on the robot. Look at those dexterous hands - wow!