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Willow Garage & Suitable Technologies Progress Update

September 4, 2012 | Telepresence Options
By Brian Wang, Next Big Future,

Yesterday I was at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose and saw and programmed a Willow Garage PR2 robot.

I spoke with some Willow Garage employees.

Here is some information I got from speaking with the Willow Garage employees.

  •  There are now 50 employees of Willow Garage
  •  There are 60 PR2 robots deployed around on the world
  •  A full price PR2 is $400,000
  •  There are two spinoff robot companies from Willow Garage (Turtlebot and Suitable Technologies
  •  Suitable will have the tablet for a head robot, which may companies are working on. In 22 days Suitable will announce something and launch their website. they are focused on using the tablet bot for telepresence.
  •  Kinect and Leap Motion devices for motion capture are making the sensors far cheaper than the planar laser scanning devices.
  •  higher resolution cameras are currently not helpful for robots. The algorithms that are currently used would analyze a pixel at a time and higher resolution would increase the computational costs. The PR2 has a 5 megapixel camera now and it is never used because the low resolution VGA camera is good enough
  • If there were smart radio tags used to label an environment that would make it easier for a robot to operate. Thin Film Norway has smart radio tags which will be available for pennies. This would be useful for environments like a business or industrial setting where the environment can be controlled to allow for complete labeling. There would be the need to control any dynamic elements (ie unpredicatable people) 
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Tablet headed robots for remote presence
By Brian Wang, Next Big Future,
Texai is a remote presence system prototype developed at Willow Garage.

Based on the amount of interest in Texai, Willow Garage has created a new company called Suitable Technologies, Inc., to bring the technology to market.
There are many companies working on commercializing tablet headed robots. iRobot (the makers of Roomba -vacuum cleaner robots) has the Ava bot.

Texai Design Principles
Willow Garage holds a number of fundamental principles for the use of Texai.

    Reciprocity of Vision (if I see you, you must see me)
Since the Texai is designed to be a remote presence system (RPS), we built the Texai to only support video transport when the pilot is available to the participant. If the pilot does not appear, the Texai automatically disconnects. Communication is two-way, not one-way as in most surveillance systems. Rich communication is only effective in a two-way, real-time audio/video experience.

    Ensuring Private Communication (no onboard recording of audio/video)
If two people are in the same room, they both have reasonable expectations of having a private conversation with no recording devices - unless implicitly asked. Willow Garage believes that a Texai should preserve this implicit contract. We do not support audio or video recording between the pilot and participants.

    Transparency of Technology (the pilot is the focus)
While many solutions discuss the impressive features of their systems, Willow Garage focuses on enhancing the pilot's presence. The Texai assists the pilot in being present in the remote conversation while reducing the Texai's technology footprint. Willow Garage believes that technology assists in communication and must fade away into the background - leaving the pilot to be present in the conversation.

    Respect the Social Norms (the Texai is the pilot in the remote location)
While Texai and other RPS players look somewhat technical, Willow Garage recommends maintaining the same social norms an individual has in person when the are in Texai form. Just as no one wishes to be jostled about by some external party, pushing a Texai when a pilot is present represents a similar disrespect. We recommend asking and respecting a Texai personal space as you would any other individual.

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