ROS, also known as Robotic Operating System, is an open-source robotic software platform that has gained popularity not only in academic and research institutions but also as a tool being adopted across a variety of industries. High-level presentations given by researchers and tech company representatives at ROSCon touched on uses in space, autonomous driving, military, warehouse management, and aviation applications, just to name a few.
Image courtesy of Acutronic Robotics (formerly Erle Robotics).
What was apparent at this year’s ROSCon was that the conference has certainly grown in both size and sophistication. ROSCon is backed by an impressive lineup of major tech companies as sponsors, many of which were actively recruiting and seeking talent.
The conference is also quickly outgrowing its capacity for both attendees and presenters, with only a 25% acceptance rate of submissions for its single track program, purely due to logistical limitations. It also sold out weeks in advance.
But, while the conference has grown, it still maintains the atmosphere of being a place where robotics enthusiasts come together to compare notes and talk about the things they love most: robots. At ROSCon, the collaborative nature of the open source community certainly translates in real life to an atmosphere that was inviting, and where discussions, ideas, and enthusiasm flowed easily.
Here’s a brief summary of a few sessions that touched on ROS being used in autonomous vehicles, the development of ROS 2, and the ROS’s recent availability on the Windows platform.
ROS 2: Ardent Apalone and Bouncy Bolson
The first non-beta release of ROS 2, Ardent Apalone, became available December 2017, and the second release, Bouncy Bolson, just this past July. When ROS 2 was first announced, many planned features promised to make it more robust and secure—qualities important especially in industrial applications.
ROSCon 2018 would then be the first gathering since ROS 2’s release, giving the community nearly a year to experiment and play with it. As a result, quite a bit more of the program was either about some aspect of ROS 2, or a project that was using ROS 2.
Bosch Global gave a walkthrough of how to use ROS 2 and showed a live demonstration of how security features can be implemented on a node network. For example, node permissions can now be controlled so that an unauthorized node cannot access the communication layer. If there is an attempted launch of a node that doesn’t have permission to be on that particular network, the launch fails.
ROS 2 walkthrough. Image courtesy of Open Robotics.
It was clear that there is a lot of activity and development currently going into ROS 2 and presentations on migrating RViz from ROS 1 to ROS 2—and the development of roslaunch—were also discussed.
Most importantly, Open Robotics encouraged those interested to get involved in development. Even for those that are new to the community, there are specially tagged posts for first-time contributors to ease them into the process.
There is definitely a race in the autonomous vehicle domain to be the first to break into the mainstream. Many companies and developers are placing huge bets on the industry and so it’s never a surprise to see the topic come up at tech conferences.
What makes the use case of ROS in autonomous driving particularly interesting is the fairly stringent requirements for safety and certification. Because of this, ROS is often used in prototypes but sometimes removed before production because of hard real-time limitations or other low-level requirements.
This still hasn’t stopped some companies from experimenting and seeing how far they can push the limitations of ROS. Apex.AI gave a presentation on a driving stack implementation based on ROS 2, showing that there is a pathway to making ROS 2 compliant for production on autonomous vehicles. In a limited context, they demonstrated that ROS 2 has some of the base features required, although ROS 1 is still relied on for some of the things not yet available on 2. The team was able to get quite close to hard real-time requirements, and meeting the qualifications for the ISO-26262 "Road vehicles – Functional safety" standard.
ROS Becomes Available on Windows
ROS has previously been available on a few flavors of Linux, as well as Mac OS X. This September, Microsoft also announced the availability of ROS for Windows 10 and Azure, providing access to development on Visual Studio, Microsoft Cloud services, and other tools like Windows Machine Learning.
This effort is in part of the ROS Industrial Consortium, which is working towards developing ROS for industrial applications.
There currently has been no official announcement of where ROSCon will be held in 2019, although the trend so far is that it is usually held in the same city as the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS). In that case, it’s possible it will be hosted in Macau next year. Keep an eye out, though, for the official announcement before making travel plans.