Could robots become the open source hardware target?

Could robots become the open source hardware target?

Summary: We usually think of open source as replacing what exists, and critics may thus deem it non-innovative. But open source is integral to homebrew robotics, and over the next few years we're going to get a lot more than vacuum cleaners out of it.

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Willow Garage robot with wine glass, from willowgarage.comMost of you probably just glanced at yesterday's post about Texas Instruments supporting open source with its new OMAP chips, and if so you probably missed an important target market.

Robots. (Picture from Willowgarage.com)

The age of homebrew robotics has arrived. As with computing in the 1970s robotics is dominated by a few large players, mainly Japanese, with a top-down vision which may bring robots onto the TV but won't bring them into our daily lives.

Thanks to open source and things like Dean Kamen's US First robotics competition, which has brought the hacker aesthete to the Internet generation, that can change.

The folks at O'Reilly are just starting to sniff around this idea, with Make Magazine and the Makerfaire. Despite Microsoft's sponsorship of the latter, open source is an imperative in this market, where everything is do-it-yourself.

Instead of seeing robots as Isaac Asimov did, as artificial people, the new robot hackers look at them first as computers with motors and specific purposes.

Starting with kits from outfits like Willow Garage, the hope is Kamen's Kids will grow up into the next generation of Gates, Jobs and Wozniaks. I'm Gates' age and I'm feeling it.

True, this is very much a pre-VC business. Quantities are tiny. TI is going to get a much bigger boost for OMAP from a single Taiwanese WiFi deal than from owning this whole industry.

But everything really useful starts in a garage, with a dream, and an idea everyone dismisses as useless, as just a hobby.

We usually think of open source as replacing what exists, and critics may thus deem it non-innovative. But open source is integral to homebrew robotics, and over the next few years we're going to get a lot more than vacuum cleaners out of it.

TI just got itself in on the garage floor.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Hardware, Open Source

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6 comments
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  • OSS on Robots is Already Here

    Robots that are used to defuse IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan already run Linux:

    http://www.irobot.com/sp.cfm?pageid=109

    That's right the same company that brought you the Roomba is the exclusive contractor of SUGV (Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle) robots to the military.

    http://www.irobot.com/sp.cfm?pageid=219
    MisterMiester
  • Hay were talking hardware here

    We need a off the shelf standard of hardware or at least a standard concept to build on. Ive been thinking about this for a while. A real evolution will require the input of more than one person. To that end a set of tools are needed. The end result may not resemble the starting point but a good place to start will prevent the continual reinvention of basic items by every individual.
    Altotus
  • Not only TI... Bug Labs

    Bug Labs' modular open-source hardware system: http://buglabs.net/about
    Spatha
    • Cool

      Not just hardware in terms of uP systems but a physical framework as well this will evolve. Id like to be a part of the development but I wouldn't know where to go and who would want me. Iam not happy with the primitive systems ive seen and in my experence nobody wants to pay for innovation when they can take it
      Altotus
    • Cool

      Not just hardware in terms of uP systems but a physical framework as well, this will evolve. Id like to be a part of the development but I wouldn't know where to go and who would want me. I am not happy with the primitive systems Ive seen and in my experience nobody wants to pay for innovation when they can take it. Resumes just show what you have done not what you can do. Its to cheap to design custom automation for industry rather than a more general form.
      Altotus
      • The point about homebrew

        The point about homebrew is you should do it yourself, and get together with other people who want to do it. Just go on a social network, describe your need, and say you'll be at such-and-such a bar or coffee house at such-and-such a time.

        Revolutions build on one another. You can build this one on the Internet.
        DanaBlankenhorn