In 2011, Henry Evans saw a PR2 robot on CNN and had an epiphany: a robot like that could serve as his external body. He contacted Charlie Kemp at Georgia Tech and Steve Cousins at Willow Garage and suggested a collaboration. Charlie put together a team of graduate students, and Steve put together a team of researchers and engineers, and together the team built a large collection of software for the PR2 robot to address Henry’s needs.
The Georgia Tech team built a user interface that Henry had sketched (using Powerpoint), which Henry immediately tried to use to shave himself. Once the blood was cleaned up, they refined the system and ultimately Henry was able to shave not only himself, but also Charlie across the country. Charlie’s lab added sensitive skin to the PR2, so that the robot could feel when it bumped into Henry.
The Willow Garage team was led by Kaijen Hsiao and Matei Ciocarlie, and focused on interactive manipulation – letting Henry trigger autonomous grasping operations easily. Andreas Paepcke worked with Henry to improve the PR2′s speaking ability and also explored various approaches to faster text input for Henry, and to provide an easy way for Henry to “puppet” the PR2.