“It isn’t your typical Silicon Valley success story. But we wanted to seed an industry and have an impact on the robotics world, and I think we did that.”
— Steve Cousins, former CEO of Willow Garage, the Silicon Valley robotics incubator that shut down last month after eight years. (Update: Willow Garage has contacted us to clarify that although research and development are no longer being done at Willow, it is still selling remaining PR2 robots. The robots are guaranteed to be supported through 2016 by Clearpath Robotics.)
A Bloomberg Businessweek article notes that Willow Garage made quite an impact: For example, Pat May wrote about the Robots of Humanity project, whose PR2 robots aim to help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Willow also created the open-source robot operating system, or ROS, which now powers many a robot as the industry grows. One of the more high-profile manufacturing robots, Baxter, is partly based on the ROS platform.
As we wrote, Cousins is now CEO of Savioke, a company he founded that’s working on robots for the service industry.
Willow’s founder, Scott Hassan is now CEO (and founder) of Suitable Technologies, which makes Beam, a videoconferencing system on wheels. According to Businessweek, Hassan wrote a lot of Google’s original code; was one of its early investors; and invested in Willow Garage the money he made after Google’s success. And now, a couple of offshoot companies of Willow — and some of the garage’s engineers — have been “inherited” by Google. Robotics is huge around Google nowadays, Brandon Bailey wrote recently.
Photo: Steve Cousins of Willow Garage talks about the PR2 robot in 2011. (Maria J. Avila Lopez/Mercury News)