Founder: Scott Hassan
HQ: Menlo Park, CA
History shows that one single semiconductor company Fairchild created a large part of the wealth of Silicon Valley. This award goes to Willow Garage, one small group with big dreams that started the current robot revolution. Sadly, Willow Garage operated for less than a decade but the influence of Willow Garage extends to almost every robotics company, via Robot Operating System (ROS), and Willow Garage alumni are responsible for many of the most successful new robotics startups today.
Willow Garage developed hardware and open source software for personal robotics applications. The company was composed of experts in robot design, control, perception, and machine learning, with both a strong theoretical background and a demonstrated drive to produce practical systems. Willow Garage saw personal robots as the next paradigm-shifting personal productivity tool and by investing in open source and open platform adoption models, aimed to lay the groundwork for the use of personal robotics applications in everyday life.
Red Hat just released their full five part documentary about the history of ROS. The documentary is called, “How to Start a Robot Revolution” and is part of an on-going documentary series called Open Source Stories, with a full account of the history of ROS at Willow Garage. If you are unfamiliar with the history of ROS this is a great chance to learn about how we got here and the people behind ROS. There is also a good write up of the history of Willow Garage and the making of the Robot Operating System (ROS) at IEEE Spectrum.