Partying with (PR2) Robots at Willow Garage

IMG_0260Tonight, I attended an invite-only PR2 robot beta launch party at Willow Garage in Menlo Park.  These guys spared no expense on the party – valet parking, huge white tent, hip lounge atmosphere, catering by Le Papilion (I think), and the most luxurious port-a-potties that I’ve ever been in (yes, it’s true!).   About a couple hundred people attended (based on my visual estimation).  Willow Garage presented the PR2 robots and the selected participants for the beta program.  Eleven projects received a PR2 robot to “play with” for 2 years.

The evening began with an introduction from Steve Cousins, CEO and President.  Then he handed it off to Scott Hassan, Founder.   Scott described how robots have changed the gross world product (GWP) over time.  During his lifetime, he wants to improve the current GWP ($60 trillion) by 100 times with the help of Willow Garage robots.  A daunting task nonetheless.  He continued to elaborate about the challenges of robots.  There are 3 disciplines that must play nice together – mechanical engineering, EE, and computer science.  Scott suggested that food most often solves any conflict between the three.

Then the PR2s came out in a marching line and waved flags back in forth while in a standing position.  It was fun watching the robots, like a show at Epcot.

Some folks that I talked with during the party:

  • Angie Chang, a founder of Women 2.0, was excited to see the robots in action and didn’t want to leave
  • A NY Times Writer attending the party from NY as a Texai telepresence robot
  • A USC PhD student who is working on getting a PR2 to be aware of its social setting.  For instance, if a robot was standing in a group of people, knowing how to square off shoulders to appear part of the group, etc
  • A PhD student from Kathoieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium) who was excited about being part of the uprise of the robotics industry.  In two years when he graduates, he hopes to have a promising career in robotics.
  • A WG researcher, PhD in Mechnical Egnineering, demoed a PR2 charges itself by plugging itself into a wall socket
  • A VP of Engineering from Fwix.com, a local news aggregator
  • A person from SocialText
  • A woman from Palo Alto Daily
  • A Google gmail developer
  • A Director of Corporate Development at EA
  • A TED organizer

I would say that the party was a success.  Congratulations to Willow Garage!

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