Sock-pairing robot a promising match for software gurus

September 8, 2010
Willow Garage PR2 robot

Willow Garage is out to transform the world of robotics with a formula that has helped make stars of Apple gadgets and Facebook.

The Northern California company believes that third-party applications can do for robots what they did for the iPhone and the world's top online social networking service.

An open-source software platform along with a PR2 robot priced at 400,000 dollars combine in a technology mix that lets software savants craft applications to make machines do their bidding.

Willow Garage began selling the robots late Tuesday in what it depicted as a step on the journey to the kinds of personal, affordable robots science fiction writers have long envisioned.

"This is fundamentally going to change the pace of development," Willow Garage co-director Keenan Wyrobek told AFP.

"It will be a couple of years before robots get priced down to being in the house, but this is an absolutely necessary step to get there."

University of California, Berkeley, researchers that took part in a test phase got a PR2 to fold towels and match pairs of socks from the laundry.

Footage of some preliminary results obtained at UC Berkeley which were compiled for Willow Garage's One-Minute PR2 Quick Start Video Contest. The PR2 is presented with two socks. It then classifies each sock as either "inside" or "outside" and flips accordingly. Once both socks are in the proper orientation, it pairs them. Team: Ping Chuan (Ted) Wang, Stephen Miller, Mario Fritz, Trevor Darrell, Pieter Abbeel.

Engineers at German technology giant Bosch had one of the robots sorting and delivering mail to desks in an office.

Students at the University of Pennsylvania had a PR2 "reading" music and playing songs by rock bands U2 and the Beatles using drums and an electric organ.

Video of robots in action was posted online at

The PR2 is intended to spare researchers from wasting time, effort and resources on building their own robots from scratch.

"Most of the people who want PR2 are software gurus; crazy good that have some cool app in mind," Wyrobek said.

"We are opening the field to software developers like what happened in the smartphone space, or Facebook and all those social networks."

PR2 moves about on wheels and has arms with changeable grips. It stands four feet 1.2 meters) tall but has a telescoping spine that lets it rise to 5.5 feet (1.6 meters). The machine also has an array of sensors.

"If you have some cool idea you want to develop, it gives you a good starting point," Wyrobek said.

The robots are assembled in Menlo Park, the California city where Willow Garage was founded in 2006.

Proven leaders in the open-source software community can qualify for a reduced price of 280,000 dollars for a , according to Willow Garage.

Explore further: Willow Garage's PR2 robot learns to play pool (w/ Video)

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5 / 5 (1) Sep 08, 2010
LOL ... ahem, that is NOT how you fold socks there, 'bot. But it's sweet of you to try :)
4 / 5 (1) Sep 08, 2010
Oh this would be awesome. "Neighbor pissing you off and you want your thug to put a beat down on him?" There's an app for that!
not rated yet Sep 08, 2010
I give the sock folding app a one star. To me it doesn't look like sock folding at all. Looks more like the developers were teaching the robot how to pleasure himself.

My bad
not rated yet Sep 08, 2010
For the first half of the video it looked like a sex robot. Or like it was trying to put a condom on. Sorry to go low brow, but........
not rated yet Sep 08, 2010
"University of California, Berkeley, researchers that took part in a test phase got a PR2 to fold towels and match pairs of socks from the laundry."
The vid is the sock sorting, this is the towel folding:-

not rated yet Sep 09, 2010
OMG!!!! This could with a little alteration and a "Real Doll" body could revolutionise the S*x toy industry.

Sep 12, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.9 / 5 (43) Sep 14, 2010
I don't know why so much effort goes into developing robots, when there's midgets.

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