urb1

Credit: Eric Gulbransen and Rich Filipowicz / Courtesy: Unbounded Robotics

Science


Willow Garage, the pioneering firm that pushed forward robotics by creating a widely used open software standard, is winding down. The Menlo Park company announced in January that it was transferring support responsibilities for its PR2 robot to Clearpath Robotics.

But its legacy lives on, both in the Robot Operating System that undergirds many robots today and the various shops it spun out, including Redwood Robotics and Industrial Perception, both of which Google acquired late last year. The list also includes hiDOF, OpenCV, the Open Perception Foundation, the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Suitable Technologies and Unbounded Robotics.

I went to visit that last company earlier this week to learn the latest. Unbounded is squeezed into a small office in a nondescript Santa Clara business park, where it has developed the URB-1. It’s the end result of an effort that began within Willow Garage to radically cut the costs of powerful robots and make them accessible to a larger business market (and eventually the consumer one as well).

By removing an arm, minimizing the sensors, designing parts that could be easily machined and developing lower-cost electronics, the four-person founding team has managed to slash the price by an order of magnitude. Willow Garage’s PR2 cost $400,000, while the base model UBR-1 runs $35,000. A high-end model, with a better laser for navigation and faster processor, hops up to $50,000.

Co-founder and Chief Executive Melonee Wise said the sweet spot is warehouse logistics, particularly for e-commerce companies packing and shipping lots of single items.

“The one thing we want our robot to do very well is work side by side with a human in a warehouse,” she said. “Basically packing, picking things off shelves, putting them in boxes.”

Unbounded is in the midst of a funding round and preliminary discussions with potential customers. They hope to begin shipping the UBR-1 in early fall.

But enough talk, humans — check out the robot in action in the video from my visit below.



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