If you happen to own a Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, you already have a robot in your life. (I have a Roomba, and highly recommend it–available at Target.) Roomba is a classic example of how a robot doesn’t have to be humanoid to be useful. In the open source community, though, there are several efforts to develop robots that look and/or act like humans, performing interesting and useful tasks. They’re not C3PO at this stage of their development, but they show tremendous promise, especially if more open source contributions are made to the projects. Here are a couple of good examples to take a gander at.
Willow Garage is an open source robotics project that originated at Stanford University. Robots being developed with the project run ROS (Robot Operating System) software. The operating system comes complete with tutorials, a developer’s guide, and more–all at the link just provided.
PR2 is the mobile hardware design for Willow Garage robots, featuring stereo and laser sensors. It’s shown at left. Stanford hosts a series of highly entertaining and interesting videos here, showing PR2 robots performing tasks such as tidying up a room and retrieving beer from a refrigerator.
Senior citizens are a big part of the target audience that Willow Garage is aiming for. “All industrialized countries are facing aging populations that require assistance and care to remain independent into old age. By 2020 close to 20 percent of the US population will be over 65,” the project leaders say. “These numbers are even higher in Western European and Asian countries.” Willow Garage is aiming to produce several types of assistive robots.
We covered the iCub open source robot, seen at left, once before, here. The iCub, unlike many less advanced robots, is capable of learning from experience. It looks like a metallic, 2-year old child, and it has sensors in its hands, eyes and elsewhere that help it navigate its surroundings. There is an open source hardware design for iCub, and an open source software platform.
Who says C3PO and R2D2 can’t come from the open source community?