Unbounded Robotics introduces UBR-1, a one-armed semi-autonomous robot for $35K

Willow Garage is a company of some renown in the world of robotics. While it's known primarily for the bots it builds, the company may one day be more famous for its alumni and the spinoff firms it has spawned. Unbounded Robotics is the latest such company, and its creation is the UBR-1, a sort of smaller, cheaper, one-armed relative of Willow Garage's famed PR2. The UBR-1 has been built to aid both academic researchers and make business automation (think stocking shelves or inspecting products) more affordable. How affordable? It's just $35K, as compared to the $285,000 or $400,000 price tag on the PR2.

In industry parlance, the UBR-1 is a mobile manipulation platform, which in plain english means it's a robot that can see where it's going, move itself around and manipulate objects using its arm. Unbounded designed the thing to interact and work with humans, so the company chose a gender neutral color scheme and skinned it with rounded friendly edges -- so as to avoid any untoward associations with the forthcoming robot apocalypse.

To accomplish the tasks set before it, the robot packs a 4th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU with 8GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive, and runs the open-source ROS software platform developed by Willow Garage. Controlling the UBR-1 is accomplished one of two ways: either using a PS3 controller to manually drive it around, or via software the team has spent two years developing. While ROS is the underlying software framework that runs the robot, Unbounded's secret sauce allows users to give UBR-1 tasks without having to program every little step that the robot must take to accomplish them. Users can, of course, give UBR-1 precise instructions by physically manipulating the arm or using the control software to map out a plan of attack.

It's got a telescoping spine that allows the UBR-1 to rise up to 52 inches tall, weighs 150 lbs and its arm has seven degrees of freedom. A PrimeSense sensor bar in its head gathers the information needed for its arm to function, while a secondary scanner mounted in the base helps map the robots' location and find its way around obstacles. UBR-1's arm can lift up to 1.5kg, and while it comes with a two-pronged gripper standard, the arm is a modular design, so customers are free to design and build their own robot hands to suit their needs.

Melonee Wise is the CEO of Unbounded Robotics, and she explained why she and three others split off from Willow Garage to pursue the UBR-1. Two years ago, Wise was working as a design engineer (her work includes TurtleBot), but had grown weary of the extended timelines of Willow Garage's projects. She also saw an opportunity to build a robot as capable as the PR2, but at a fraction of the cost, simply because the PR2 was designed and built without a focus on affordability, and therefore had a lot of expensive, unnecessary hardware on board (including a second arm). So, Unbounded Robotics was born to build a capable research bot that was designed to be cheap from the ground up, and the UBR-1 is the result of their work.

The company's plan is to start taking order for the UBR-1 before the end of the year, with deliveries slated to start next summer.