Brian Gerkey, 34
A common language for robots
PROBLEM: People who want to program robots have had to either write software from scratch or purchase proprietary software that is hard to modify.
SOLUTION: Brian Gerkey has developed open-source platforms, called Player and ROS, that standardize the basic software used to control a robot. Both have been adopted by thousands of companies, universities, and governments around the world.
Gerkey believes the software will allow entrepreneurs to create new commercial applications for robots even if they don't have extensive robotics expertise. The goal is to help "people who have ideas for what robots can do in the marketplace," he says. Much of the development of ROS is happening at Willow Garage, a robot technology incubator, where Gerkey is the director of open-source development. The first full version of ROS, which can handle more complex robots than Player, was released in 2010. By encouraging the adoption of ROS, Willow Garage is also increasing the market for its own robots, which it hopes will become the de facto hardware standard for would-be robot entrepreneurs. —Kristina Grifantini