giving away its ultra-high-end development platform PR2 bots forever. After shipping 11 of the bots to research institutes, Willow Garage is now selling the PR2 to all comers -- as long as they've got 400 grand in their back pocket. We've covered the specs before (oodles of CPU power, two highly articulated pincer arms, and high-end vision systems), along with some of PR2's recent hijinks, and hopefully we see more of that sort of stuff now that the rugged, ready-for-adventure PR2 is on the market. If you can't scrap together all the cash, Willow Garage will also be offering a discount $280k version to people and institutions that can demonstrate "past performance and leadership" in open source robotics software -- a topic obviously near and dear to Willow Garage's heart with ROS, the OS that powers PR2 and is slowly spreading throughout much of the world of higher-end personal robotics.
As for the high price and its generally opaque business model, Willow Garage compares the current state of its industry to high end workstations in the 70s, back when researchers were spending more money and time figuring out what their computers could do than actually accomplishing anything with them. Willow Garage isn't planning on making any sort of killing in the business yet -- they'd just be happy to have the PR2 project at a self sustaining level -- but they're working toward what they see as the "next radical shift" in productivity, a personal robotics follow-up to the personal computer revolution. This is a future similar to the one Bill Gates was talking up back in 2006, but of course Willow Garage wants its open source ROS platform to be the "Microsoft" this time around. They certainly don't plan to corner the hardware market in the process, however: the company hopes the quasi-followup to the PR2 will actually be built by multiple companies.