UPDATED: Willow Garage did not shut down last month
Willow Garage, a research lab that focuses on robotics, was reported to be shutting down — but this is UNTRUE. The lab was created by Scott Hassan. Hassan funded the lab with around $20 million of his own money every year. He even hired many of the world’s leading robotics engineers and gave them the freedom to create unique ideas.
Willow Garage created an operating system that is now one of the standard programs in the robotics industry. Some of the companies launched out of Willow Garage were acquired by tech companies like Google. Hassan became the full-time CEO of Suitable Technologies, which is a company that he started and spun out of Willow.
Hassan is known for working with Sergey Brin and Larry Page during the Stanford days. He wrote a lot of Google’s original code. Hassan also built eGroups.com and sold it to Yahoo! for $413 million in 2000. Hassan invested some of the money from that sale into Google. His money allowed Brin and Page to limit the amount of funding that they took from venture capitalists. Hassan was given shares of Google, which made him very wealthy in 2004 when the company went public.
Hassan is now spending time building a videoconferencing system that looks like an iPad on wheels. Employees can roll into meetings when they are out of the office or stop by a co-worker’s office to chat.
The Robot Operating System (ROS) was developed at Willow, which could control the basic functions of robots. The open source software allowed robotics engineers to rapidly prototype machines.
Another project developed by Willow Garage was called the PR2. PR2 is a humanoid robot.
According to BusinessWeek, Hassan brought around 10 people from Willow to work with him at Suitable Technologies. Many of Willow’s other employees were hired by Google. Out of the eight startups and foundations that spun out of Willow, Google acquired two of them: Industrial Perception and Redwood Robotics.
This article has been updated to reflect that Willow Garage is not shutting down. Here is a statement from Bob Bauer, Executive Director of Commercialization at Willow Garage:
“Willow Garage, Inc. continues to do business with no intention of closing. While Research activities ended when most staff joined Suitable Technologies last August, nothing occurred in January to change the availability of PR2 sales and service. In fact a January announcement solidified ongoing support for PR2 by a company whose focus and experience has been for robotics R&D products. Willow Garage is very much in the business of supporting the PR2 community by growing it through sales of the remaining mobile manipulation platforms and insuring service continues at least through 2016.”