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Willow Garage Makes Open Source Robots for Researchers (Video)

Roblimo posted about a year ago | from the stomp-on-the-magic-kingdom-stomp-stomp-stomp dept.

Science 22

We're not talking cheap here; Willow Garage PR2 robots list for $280,000 with the academic discount, $400,000 without. Still, spokesman Ryan points out that it can take a PhD candidate two or more years to build a robot chassis and create new software equivalent to Willow Garage's open source robotware. The thought, too, is that if a university buys the robot a lot of students can share it. Sounds good, doesn't it? But much though we might want a robot, it's probably a good thing Slashdot doesn't have one because we'd probably spend all day fighting over who got to use it next.

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Willow Garage? (0)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about a year ago | (#43854253)

What about Madmartigan Carport??

Re:Willow Garage? (0)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about a year ago | (#43854267)

Oh what a missed opportunity for frosty piss!

2 years for a PhD student... (2, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year ago | (#43854317)

... costs a lot less than $280k. It barely costs 1/5th of that, and schools tend to treat PhD students as if they have all the time in the world. This company needs a better pitch line than telling us that it saves a grad student two years of work.

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854371)

... costs a lot less than $280k. It barely costs 1/5th of that, and schools tend to treat PhD students as if they have all the time in the world. This company needs a better pitch line than telling us that it saves a grad student two years of work.

You could also use the kinect and the sw for free, and buy a 7 dof robot arm. Most people will not need more than that for their research, unless they're researching "human robot love affairs".

Also, industrial robots are serious business - these are not so it's an easier market in some ways than those, if you target "soft" science institutions like the mentioned human-robot-interactions institute. Their profit margin is also somewhere around 100 000 per machine, that alone buys a pretty nice robot arm from Siemens.

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (1)

dbc (135354) | about a year ago | (#43854389)

Misleading summary. Probably more like 50 to 100 man-years of development in the PR2 hardware and the ROS software stacks.

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (2)

John Jorsett (171560) | about a year ago | (#43854589)

... costs a lot less than $280k. It barely costs 1/5th of that, and schools tend to treat PhD students as if they have all the time in the world. This company needs a better pitch line than telling us that it saves a grad student two years of work.

How about this for a pitch: "You're welcome to build your own damned robot if you don't want to pay our price."

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43857965)

I build robots. Both sides of this argument are valid. It's a damned fine robot with a cool software stack. It's worth the $280k.

That said, the pitch suggesting this is a breakthrough value proposition, is similar in slant to the pitch for a super charged Camero. It's only a "value" if you were going to spend an outrageous amount of money on a car anyway. That people find this pitch hard to swallow seems understandable.

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854673)

... costs a lot less than $280k. It barely costs 1/5th of that, and schools tend to treat PhD students as if they have all the time in the world. This company needs a better pitch line than telling us that it saves a grad student two years of work.

Sorry, that's just plain wrong. I don't know where you're pulling your numbers from. Perhaps a local excrement port.

On the low end--in the US--an engineering student or physical science student should be making ~21,000 USD/year. (Been there, done that, recently. This is complete and utter crap in comparison to industry) The advisor/project head is expected to cover ~45% overhead for each salary in tuition, health care, and other costs--so roughly 30,000 USD per year. At dirt cheapest, you're looking at 60,000 (more than 1/5 the cost, barely)

On the high end--here in Switzerland-- a PHD will make close to 58,000 USD base (Still awful compared to local industry rates). After accounting for overhead (mandatory pensions, taxes, accident coverage...) that shoots up to about 72,500 a year. A net cost of about 145000 or about 52% of the list price to an academic.

In either case, you get a homebuilt solution that has a useful expectancy of exactly one generation of students. (The thing will be so poorly functional that no one but the builder will be able to use it) For your two years of startup costs, you get at best two years of productive use out of it but have to pay for three (dissertations take about 1 year of funded time to write, regardless). So now you're footing another 90,000 to 220,000 in costs.

On the low end, how does 105,000 (21000*5, cheap US) to 360,000 (72,000*5, expensive, CH) USD every 5 years make sense to anyone against 280,000 USD every 10 years (typical capital depreciation timeframe). Especially when the new instrument can be split amongst multiple grad students and projects?

None of this includes the additional costs for the Professor/project head, who is paid between 3x and 4x as much per year as the grad student, or support staff costs who generally total to about 0.25x grad student costs/project?

Damn_registrars needs to get an actual clue about how much research actually costs before criticizing the the company's cost/benefit performance. As far as commercial equipment goes, this is remarkably cheap/undersold...

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43855193)

I agree about the functionality. But you can't extrapolate from your experience to determine what PhD engineering students in the US should make. Standard rates vary dramatically around the country. 15 years ago, as an engineering grad student in the southern US at a very large state school, in a good semester I earned $440 biweekly as a Teaching Assistant working 20 hours a week (typically less since 1/3 of full time was standard; minimum wage according to the grad student union agreement), only while classes were in session. That's less than $12,000 a year. They covered my tuition, but I had to cover books, health insurance, housing, food, utilities and transportation out of my earnings. (I did the math and worked out that you could either live further out and pay for transportation but not books or live close in and pay higher rent but not books. No matter what you did, the only way to afford all of it was to have a wage-earning spouse.) I just checked the website, and at my school, TA's are currently paid $17.24 an hour. We typically got assignments of roughly 13 hours a week (more than that and the research suffers, although some classes are many more hours than that in practice). That's $224 a week, not much more than I made 15 years ago.

And I enjoyed being a TA more than I enjoyed being an RA. Because I wasn't tied to someone else's project funding, I got to do a project that I was passionate about for my Ph.D. and discovered that I really enjoy teaching.

So my cost to the professor I did my PhD with was zero. But I would have loved to have access to something a tenth as sophisticated as a PR-2. They're slow and their sensors aren't the best, but I didn't get to demonstrate my sensor processing algorithms on a robot when I did my oral dissertation defense because my lab was full of half-finished student robots that weren't sufficiently dexterous or even functional for me to use them.

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (4, Informative)

HizookRobotics (1722346) | about a year ago | (#43855003)

Actually, the fully-loaded cost for a PhD student is $75k-$80k / year (ie the amount charged to a faculty member's grant). You have to remember, PhD students' tuition is usually incurred as part of the cost since they're working in exchange for (1) a minimally-viable living stipend and (2) fully-paid tuition.

We had two PR2's in our lab (Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab). There were ~2 people working on each at any given time.... so the $$ makes sense. And the PR2 was a great platform!

Source: my work on the PR2 http://www.hizook.com/blog/2010/10/16/pr2-robot-autonomously-delivers-medication-using-uhf-rfid-live-cnn [hizook.com]

Re:2 years for a PhD student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43855513)

Also note, the PR2 needs a PhD to operate it mind that it requires a PhD to program it (e.g. ROS is not for the basic developer). No average hobbyist or factory worker can operate a PR2, period.

And that if you spent that 280K on training against ABB/Beckhoff/Emerson industrial robotic machines.... you'd have a better robot than the PR2. The PR is a great research tool, and we all know research tools cost a heck of a lot and only useful in the research environment.

Grad Assistants to the Rescue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854343)

Sorry but for $280000 you could hire a team of graduate engineering students and knock it out in about 2 semesters.

Re:Grad Assistants to the Rescue (1)

Beezlebub33 (1220368) | about a year ago | (#43858767)

No, you could not. You might end up with a robot, but you might not; lots of engineering projects end up in complete failure. More importantly, even if they 'succeeded' you would not have a standard, stable, reproducible platform. You would have a system held together with bailing wire and duct tape, and when one or more of those graduate students left, you would have nothing because they would be the only ones that could get it to work.

huh?!?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854505)

280-400k for that?

You gotta be shitting me...

I could build one of those in a weekend or two.

The software would be the big cost... and this is supposedly 'open source'. but still full price?

Hell for the price of this you could get a couple year old automotive 6 axis robotic arm. And the software to go with it.

This sure looks like a really overpriced toy... And this article sure looks alot like spam...

What's with the image? (1)

telchine (719345) | about a year ago | (#43854545)

What's with the image on the left hand side? Have I clicked on Digg by accident?

News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854819)

What's with the shameless plug? I know Willow Garage is trying to make money now, but this robot has been around for a while.

400 grand for this POS? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854829)

I'm sure it gives good blow jobs to it's developers though. Willow garage looks like it's run by a bunch of faggots.

klaatu barada nikto (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43854949)

But much though we might want a robot, it's probably a good thing Slashdot doesn't have one because we'd probably spend all day fighting over who got to use it next.

Then Gort destroys the aggressor, and all the /. editors will be wiped out. All for only $280K :)

YUO FAIL I&2T (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43855007)

who are int+ersted by BSDI who sell rooting corpse visit prospects are everything else any parting shot,

We wouldn't fight over it (1)

davidwr (791652) | about a year ago | (#43855103)

We'd get our robot minions to fight over it for us.

buy a baxter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43855891)

Rethinkrobotics.com 22k done. Move along

Re:buy a baxter (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43857415)

Baxter is definitely cool. It's great for repetitive tasks done while fixed in place.

Not that there's not some neat stuff left to work on with it, it doesn't lend itself so well to many of the research activities possible with the PR2, best I can figure. PR2 is also mobile, a big advantage.

Depending on what students and profs might be into, I can see where both could find use; I don't see them competing for the same dollars or uses.

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