ROS gains a foothold in the robotics ecosystem
ROS, or robot operating system, is an open source software framework, recently called a development kit forrobotics application development. for over10 latROS has become the standard platform for enabling development teams across technical disciplines and industries to move capabilities from the research lab to the field or shop floor by providing access to proven algorithms, development tools and interfaces for various components needed for next generation robotics deployments. This has enabled the different components to work in a tightly integrated manner to solve complex tasks or realize opportunities where dynamics is a key element of the environment or application.
The success of ROS is a testament to the success of open source as a tool for developing capabilities and a community that has built a huge code base while demonstrating capabilities for over a decade. This success helps convert new users as ROS transitions to ROS 2 while introducing more robust features. As the robotics community moves from the original ROS implementation to ROS 2, and more implementations spring into the wild, it's worth looking back at the history of ROS and the related ROS-Industrial initiative to help contextualize current trends and think about the exciting future ahead.
ROS and Willow's garage
ROS has its origins in California's Silicon Valley at Stanford University in the US as the basic structure of the 2008 Willow Garage PR2 robot. From there, after the closure of Willow Garage, a non-profit organization was formed to support ROS and the free Gazebo simulation platform. Since then, Open Robotics has matured ROS, enabling and growing a global community that is multi-domain, supporting robotics teaching, individual student projects, inter-institutional collaborations, competitions, and of course, new products on the market. The value has been proven time and time again thanks to the use of a business-friendly open source licensing model that accelerates the time to market. This has enabled more efficient returns, enabling risk removal and more agile end-application development. ROS provides consistent flexibility for efficient integration with other ecosystems, software tools, or hardware by providing well-documented messaging interfaces and architectures.
After the success of ROS, downloads, products and a large community, it's time to look at the shortcomings. This led to the development of ROS 2. The first release of ROS 2, in December 2018, aimed to address several limitations of ROS 1. Robustness and determinism in dynamic environments, security and support for embedded systems werekey redesign factorswhich went to ROS 2. The second key element was the choice of the Data Distribution Service (DDS) communication standard, which has proven itself in critical infrastructure applications, the military and financial systems. This has helped address many reliability challenges and provide more reliable operation and best-in-class security.
In parallel with the progress of ROS, an initiative was launched in 2012 to test whether ROS could be used in industrial applications. The Southwest Research Institute, a non-profit research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, built first-of-its-kind robotic systems forprevious 20 years. Any custom application would require significant software rewrites due to the nature of industrial robotics creating proprietary ecosystems, including their own proprietary programming languages. Shaun Edwards of SwRI, in collaboration with Yaskawa Motoman, co-located at Willow Garage to create the first instance of an ROS-controlled industrial manipulator. This approval and creation of a simple message and Motoman Driver were the firstROS-Industrialapprovals and open source ROS-Industrialproject was born. In 2013, Paul Hvass, also from SwRI, established the ROS-Industrial Consortium. The mission of the Consortium is to give direction to the ROS-Industrial open source project and stimulate synergies between universities, OEMs, developers and solution providers and end users. The ROS-Industrial Americas consortium has been led by Matt Robinson of SwRI since 2017, overseeing improvements to open source resources and more than doubling the number of consortium members.
From the outset, ROS-Industrial has strived to provide industrial end-users with mix/low batch capabilities while lowering the barriers to entry into both industrial robotics and open source robotics. Throughout its history, ROS-Industrial has notably provided the resources they coverApps,training, interface standards, as well as physical systems anddemonstrationsadapted to the needs of the industry.
Managing the transition from ROS 1 to ROS 2 for industry
Part of the ROS vision for industry, which is based on feedback from consortium members and the industry community, is managing the transition and support for ROS and ROS 2. There are many documented industrial successes with ROS and collaborative projects to support core industry capabilities. However, as ROS 2 becomes the new standard, a new handling approach is required. Therefore, ROS-Industrial has tried to create key content separate from the ROS version where possible and provide interfaces for the specific ROS version in use. This allows those who are not ready or have high performance systems in ROS 1 to continue to take advantage of the improvements in the core libraries. Conversely, when new users deploy ROS 2, they can count on core libraries that have proven themselves in industrial applications. The most important thing is to make the tent as large as possible and not leave users behind just because they can't migrate to ROS 2, while allowing the ecosystem to continuously improve as more users come in, creating more efficient and robust solutions for the entire community.
ROS industry success stories
The impact of ROS-enabled solutions has been well documented. Spirit AeroSystems hasshared their successin the use of ROS to paint parts with a large variety. Due to their position as suppliers to many aerospace OEMs, they inherently face the challenge of producing parts of many varieties. In this example, ROS enables them to paint on the fly with Scan-N-Plan, improving their productivity and removing the burden of creating unique robotic programs for all the parts their operations were responsible for. Since then, Spirit AeroSystems has developed a strong team of in-house developers where ROS is a key enabler to their vision of Industry 4.0 and how they manage productivity and quality across their entire value stream.
Another case study looks at two recent development initiatives. The first isAdvanced automation for agile aviation applications (A5)program. The US Air Force funded this initiative to create a flexible, agile platform and software that could easily transition from one airbase maintenance task to another without complex programming. Currently, the program is in a continuation phase to perform a radiographic inspection for obstruction of the air intakes, after the sandblasting repair operation in the previous phase.
While this application is attractive, it was the software structure that came with it that made the real impact. This ROS-based platform was recently expanded into two new applications under the ARM Institute, which serves as the Institute for Manufacturing Innovation under a public-private partnership funded by the US Department of Defense. first show,Mobile standalone coating application for aircraft maintenancesought to create a mobile robotic painting solution for a wide variety of aerospace parts. The second, autonomousCoating with real-time control and inspection, sought to plan the painting process in real time based on the observed features and adjust the painting process based on learning based on extensive computational fluid dynamics. What made these programs, each only one year long, possible was that they were simply extensions of the A5 framework. The modular nature with consistent interfaces made it possible to add new components or software modules and reuse the basic structure to create these two new applications for two different end users.
Innovations in the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region
Since 2013, the ROS-Industrial open source project and its affiliated consortia have grown into a global initiative. Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart, Germany, has been managing the ROS-Industrial Consortium of the European Union (EU) since 2014, and the Center for Advanced Recycling Technology in Singapore is home to the ROS-Industrial Consortium Asia-Pacific (AP).
Within the European Union recently completedCalfoniaThe project was funded by the EU's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and aimed to increase its impact by making ROS-Industrial better, even more business-friendly and accessible. Thethe success of this programmedevelops robust interfaces supported by OEMs, creates new welding and logistics related applications and numerous new start-ups using ROS in their products in the EU and beyond.
ROS-Industrial Asia-Pacific creates its own momentum and contributes to the global ecosystem. The largest program was supported by Open Robotics, ROS curators and maintainers, and the Singapore government. Open Robotics Middleware Framework (Open-RMF) is a free, open-source, modular software system that allows multiple fleets of robots and physical infrastructure such as doors, elevators, and building management systems to be shared and interoperable. The work was recently recognized as one ofWinners of the RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award 2021. Interoperability was at the heart of one of the strengths of ROS, and this work highlights the power to enable rich interoperability between multiple smart devices.
Supporting further adoption in the industry
It is clear that ROS has now gained a foothold in the robotics ecosystem. The possibility of extending from education to research labs to innovators to leading tech companies and end-users on the shop floor using ROS to create solutions is truly fascinating. Many companies have built and shipped products that use ROS or use ROS as part of their development workflow, including Clearpath, Fetch, now part of Zebra Technologies, Samsung, Apex.ai, Sony, Robotnik, Bastian Solutions, and more. There are more and more of themresourcessupport industry in adopting ROS. These include workshops, education and training, work examples and regular community and developer meetings andforacollaborate with others using these tools and even conferences, both around ROS and for each global region for ROS-Industrial.
As ROS 2 evolves in parallel with industry adoption, there is an increasing emphasis on safety and quality. New resources and practices are emerging to provide enhanced security and performance for systems that use ROS. There are many working groups that are open and active, seeking to build a broad coalition to improve the framework to meet the requirements and create an ecosystem that is scalable for industry, education, government and more. Recent initiatives aroundROS for spaceonly to add to the requirements that will push ROS over capability and reliability due to software requirements in this domain.
We look forward to further development of ROS in industrial applications and deployments and believe strongly in a community that focuses on the core building blocks that provide a foundation that reduces the need to reinvent the wheel, enabling end users who face challenges to properly solve the problem and having tools, resources, and a software ecosystem that just works. We encourage those interested in advancing industrial robotics to consider looking at ROS and the ROS community, including projects likeROS-Industrialand a specific ROS community for industry. Let's continue to provide resources to enable richer industrial capabilities tailored to the needs and requirements of tomorrow's factories.