This one-armed robot won't cost an arm and a leg

Three years ago, a Silicon Valley robotics startup called Willow Garage shook things up by offering one of the first robots capable of a wide range of different functions rather than a single focused task.

The so-called PR2 could do anything from folding laundry to picking up something from the floor to delivering a beer, and it was instantly the darling of researchers and robotics fans. The only problem was that it cost $400,000.

Now, several ex-Willow Garage employees have spun off their own company, known as Unbounded Robotics, and their first product is a very PR2-like machine -- … Read more

Crave Ep. 123: Seeing the world through porn-colored Glasses

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In you-knew-that-would-happen news, an adult app store called MiKandi is building apps for Google Glass. A robot refills your beer glass when you're ready for another round. And "Arrested Development" is proving popular, especially with pirates. All that and more on this week's Crave extravanganza. … Read more

Cheers! PR2 robot knows where to pour your beer

Robot! Fetch me a beer!

Yes, robots can actually carry out that order. Now, they can even anticipate where to pour your beverage of choice.

Cornell University's Personal Robotics Lab has trained a PR2 robot from Willow Garage to figure out where and when to pour beer, as well as perform other actions that require anticipation.

Armed with a Kinect 3D camera and a database of 3D videos, PR2 can analyze what it sees by breaking down activities into several steps. Then it anticipates what might happen next with objects it picks out in the scene. It can choose the most likely next step for activities like eating, drinking, cleaning, and putting things away. … Read more

How to prevent and respond to a user revolt

The last thing you need as an entrepreneur is for your company to be engulfed in a public controversy. Just ask Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Path, Airbnb, Geeklist, and the countless other companies, big and small, that have been the target of press backlash and user vitriol.

It doesn't matter how careful you are: the more successful you become, the more likely it is that you'll make a mistake that ignites the blogosphere. There are ways to minimize the fallout and, more importantly, ways to prevent a large-scale user revolt in the first place.

Let's take Instagram's recent Terms of Service controversyRead more

Always On gets served -- by a robot sushi waiter

In this week's Always On (Episode 7), host Molly Wood visits robotics research lab Willow Garage in Menlo Park, Calif., to see how its crafty $400,000 PR2 robot fares as a sushi waiter.

PR2 looks like a juiced-up version of Rosie the robotic maid from "The Jetsons." But even with its buff arms, this humanoid robot can set a table with surprising grace. It shows poise on camera too -- impressive considering that the footage below represents robot sushi waiter's first video appearance.

For those unfamiliar with the open-source robot, the PR2's array of … Read more

Episode 7: 3D printing and a new fusion phone

I have to put our Always On supervising producer, Eileen Rivera, on front street a little bit this week: that woman hates the Samsung Galaxy Beam. More accurately, she hates the cheeseball YouTube videos that promote the Beam's signature feature: its built-in pico projector. And I agree ... those ads are bad. Like, bad, bad.

But after spending some time playing with the Beam, I have to confess, I was kind of taken with its little parlor trick! I can't imagine using it often, unless it was for work, but it would certainly thrill the grandparents as a better … Read more

Google's augmented-reality glasses: Is it all PR?

I know many people will be out this weekend, practicing walking down the streets and not looking where they're going.

This is in preparation for Google's new augmented-reality glasses -- code name Project Glass -- which were teased this week.

I use the word "teased" advisedly. Always.

For though the sight of Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wearing the glasses in public might offer credibility to the high-tech specs, it might also reveal a desire on Google's part for outpourings of love.

You see, those who have spent much of their lives working … Read more

How to build your own app for free

Ever want to build an app for yourself?

It's actually not hard. There are a number of companies that offer the ability to create your own app for a minimal fee, which is great for small businesses looking to stay relevant in this increasingly mobile world. Or if you just have a lot of time on your hands.

Take Conduit. The company made its money creating branded toolbars found on your browser. But over the past few months, it has been expanding into the mobile world with a free service that allows you to build an app and mobile … Read more

PR2 robot learns to scoop poop

Everything cool in technology eventually becomes mundane. I think history shall record that robots, once the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, crossed this threshold when they began picking poop off the floor.

Willow Garage's PR2, a humanoid with an evolving MacGyver skillset, has added shit disturber to its many talents.

Ben Cohen and friends at the University of Pennsylvania's GRASP lab recently took the wraps off this awesome new technology, named POOP SCOOP (Perception of Offensive Products and Sensorized Control of Object Pickup). Hello, Ig Nobel prize. … Read more

Willow Garage offers cheaper PR2, minus one arm

Realizing too late the threat of its PR2 robots taking over the world, Willow Garage today began offering a less dangerous version with only one arm.

The PR2 SE can be yours for the low, low price of only $285,000. That's way down from $400,000 for a two-armed PR2, and a discount is even available to those who make significant contributions to the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) community. Users can buy another arm later if they want.

PR2 has made the rounds of late with its skills in helping people, reading, cooking, tag-teaming with a TurtleBot to serve drinks, and fetching beer.

Willow Garage says about two dozen PR2s, which went on sale last September, are being used by researchers around the world, and that PR2 SE will expand the community because it's more affordable. … Read more