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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Robot Startups to Watch

Heartland Robotics
iRobot co-founder Rodney Brooks has formed a startup called Heartland Robotics combinding computers, robots and workforce, to increase productivity and revitalize manufacturing. HR is developing low-cost robots "that will empower American workers"(Brooks). The basic idea is to let ordinary manual workers become their own information engineer and increase their own productivity. Today it takes automation engineers months to program industrial robots for new tasks. Brooks plan is to develop robots that could make U.S.-based manufacturing a viable alternative to outsourcing in many circumstances.

Some brains behind the idea may be Gill Pratt, Ph.DProfessor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Eduardo Torres-Jara, postdoctoral associate at the Humanoid Robotics Group at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Pratt works with "series-elastic" actuators with more natural properties than industrial robots possess, and "virtual model" control languages that allow natural dynamics and active control to work synergistically. Torres-Jara works with sensitive manipulation and sensitive grasping on the the Oberon robot platform.

MIT: Oberon platform

The Droid Works
iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner has formed a stealth company called The Droid Works. The first project is in the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) space.

Willow Garage
Scott Hassan founder of eGroups (a group email messaging company now known as Yahoo Groups) and the key software architect/developer of Google, Alexa Internet and the Stanford Digital Library, founded Willow Garage in 2006. Willow Garage is a privately-funded research and development lab focused on delivering autonomous technology. The company is committed to collaboratively building Open Source platforms that enable other researchers to more easily replicate and build on results. Willow Garage is contributing to the tools and infrastructure that will facilitate the growth of a robotics business ecosystem. As a privately-funded company, Willow Garage research is not influenced by military contracts, allowing us to focus solely on helping people and the environment.

Ioan Sucan of Rice University and Radu Rusu of TU München demo dynamic obstacle avoidance on the Willow Garage PR2 prototype. The demonstration includes real-time 3D mapping coupled with sampling-based motion planning.

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