The whiz kids at Willow Garage have worked another robotic wonder. This time the Silicon Valley startup taught a PR2 robot to play billiards - in just one week! Using open source operating system ROS the team was able to teach the robot how to identify the pool table, locate a shot, and make it. The project was one of Willow Garage's 'hackathons' - endurance sessions where they push the limits of what they, and their robots, can accomplish while having fun. And it does look like they're having fun. Watch the PR2 sink shot after shot in the video below. Too cool.
It was only a few weeks ago that Willow Garage launched what may turn out to be a historical initiative in robotics - the give away of 11 of their PR2 platforms to research institutions all over the world. That endeavor could cause rapid growth in the robotics industry by accelerating the rate at which those groups can develop new software. Most companies might have taken a protracted rest, but Willow Garage is getting right back in the saddle, demonstrating once again why their PR2 might be the definitive platform for robotics research.
This project demonstrates some important strengths of Willow Garage. First, they have an amazing open source hardware platform, the PR2, that has the versatility of sensors and precision of movements to mimic human activities. While the cue-holding hardware hacks aren't exactly pretty, they get the job done. Second, they work with a powerful open source software library - ROS. With ROS, the Willow Garage team was able to quickly adapt previously made billiards software (FastFiz) to their project. Not only that, but now their innovations in software are available to other developers via the ROS website (in the billiards stack). That's the positive feedback loop in research that's the hallmark of the open source robotics movement. And the final strength? Willow Garage has a team that really loves working with robots. Seriously. Every single employee we met during the PR2 launch party impressed us - and their work continues to do the same. These engineers are working their asses off day in and day out and loving it. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.
[screen capture and video credit: Willow Garage]
[source: Willow Garage Blog]