Willow Garage Spinoff Launches UBR-1 One-Armed, Mobile Robot

Unbounded Robotics, a spinoff of Willow Garage, recently debuted its first machine, UBR-1, a head and multi-jointed robotic arm on wheels that runs on the open-source Robot Operating System, or ROS. The startup hopes UBR-1 will support the development of further applications for dexterous, mobile robots.

“Similar to an iPhone without any third-party apps, the greatest contribution of UBR-1 will be the output from the robotics community that is able to take advantage of this sophisticated mobile manipulation platform,” Unbounded Robotics said in a blog post announcing the robot.

ubr1Robots are advancing quickly, but few companies have mastered the combination of hand-and-arm type movements and roaming location. Those movements will allow robots to perform relatively repetitive tasks that humans must currently handle, such as moving plants as they’re grown for sale at home improvement stores or folding towels.

Spurring such development is the ultimate goal of the robot, which emphasizes maximum mobility and minimum price.

Unbounded Robotics — founded in January by Melonee Wise, Willow Garage’s employee #2 — has taken up the open-source mission of its predecessor. Along with the most recent version of ROS, the robot comes loaded with a new open-source mobility module called MoveIt. Users can also log in using Secure Shell and program the robot themselves.

At $35,000, the robot is certainly accessible to institutions and startups, its intended audiences. But sitting in the same price range as a car, the droid may even find some geeky buyers who want to use it at home (some programming required).

To keep the price so low for a robot (compare Willow Garage’s PR2’s $400,000 price tag), Unbounded Robotics limited UBR-1 to a single arm. But what an arm it is, with three joints and a “hand” that can grasp a 6-pound object or insert and expand hand to carry a concave object from within.

unbounded-robotics-rosThe machine can also vary its height between 38 to 52 inches, allowing it to pick up items from the floor, say, and put them up on a countertop or shelf.

The robot’s “head” moves side-to-side and up and down, using a PrimeSense 3D sensor to see. Its base gets a 180-degree navigational view from a 2D laser scanner. UBR-1 can navigate any ADA-compliant building, according to the company.

The robot automatically docks when it’s low on batteries, which spares the human user from having to come in in the morning and charge for several hours before putting the robot to work. Each charge lasts 3-5 hours.

Pre-orders will open “soon,” according to the company, and UBR-1 will ship in summer 2014.

Photos: Eric Gulbransen, courtesy Unbounded Robotics

Cameron Scott
Cameron Scott
Cameron received degrees in Comparative Literature from Princeton and Cornell universities. He has worked at Mother Jones, SFGate and IDG News Service and been published in California Lawyer and SF Weekly. He lives, predictably, in SF.
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