Robot Operating System, a Common OS to Streamline Robotic Engineering (Aug. 13, 2009) — The biannual International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Pasadena, California, has decided to standardize robot instructions around a common platform, so that designers won’t have to “reinvent the wheel over and over and over” with every project.

roboostPresently, robot design is undertaken in an ad hoc fashion, with both hardware and software being built from scratch, but teams at Stanford, MIT and the Technical University of Munich are building the Robot Operating System (ROS).

The ROS is an open-source set of programs meant to serve as a common platform for a wide range of robotics research.

ROS has software commands that, for instance, provide ways of controlling a robot’s navigation, and its arms, grippers and sensors, without needing details of how the hardware functions.

The system also includes high-level commands for actions like image recognition and even opening doors. When ROS boots up on a robot’s computer, it asks for a description of the robot that includes things like the length of its arm segments and how the joints rotate. It then makes this information available to the higher-level algorithms.

A standard OS would also help researchers focus on a key aspect that so far has been lacking in robotics: reproducibility.

However, ROS is not the only robotic operating system vying to be the standard. Microsoft is also trying to create a “Windows for robots” with its Robotics Developer Studio.

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