California-based startup company, Willow Garage, has recently unveiled a new robotic creation that can chip in with chores around the house. The PR2 robot is still in the prototype stage, but the device is already capable of folding laundry, setting a table and baking a batch of cookies.
Although finding a convenient way to outsource mundane domestic responsibilities is a dream scenario for a number of people, the underlying technology for a robotic housekeeper has been slow to develop. Industry experts are following the Willow Garage process closely to see if innovations are arriving faster than previously assumed.
"The technology is much closer than most people think," Stanford professor Andrew Ng told the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not yet there, but I think that in less than a decade the technology will exist to have a useful household robot."
The company remains in stealth mode, but investors are reportedly excited about the early success and sheer volume of robotics developers associated with the project.
"We're trying to build a personal robotics industry," Willow Garage CEO, Steve Cousins, told the news source. "We want to serve as a catalyst."
The firm is guided by the idea that a lack of standards has been a significant inhibitor for the industry. A lack of hardware and software compatibility often leads researchers to begin a new project from scratch with proprietary resources. This not only delays projects, it has also reduced the motivation for collaborative efforts.
But one of the largest obstacles still facing the company may be making the technology affordable for consumers. Early models of PR2 were priced at approximately $400,000, according to GizMag. In an effort to reduce costs, Willow Company recently decided to offer PR2 SE, a one-armed version of its predecessor with a $285,000 price tag.
To generate interest and support for the product, the company has decided to released two dozen PR2 models to commercial and academic research institutions. The company also plans to host community conference calls twice monthly and maintain a strong presence at industry events to encourage collaboration and constructive feedback processes.
If successful, this project may be much more important for robotics developers than consumers who ultimately own a PR2. Willow Garage's wider mission of open-source robotics technology and cross-team interaction may yield impressive creations that come to market much faster.