First ROS-Industrial Asia Pacific Workshop 2016

Submitted by: Nicholas Yeo, Technical Director, Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Center, Singapore

We just conducted our first ROS-Industrial Asia Pacific Workshop to a sell-out crowd. ROS enthusiasts from academia, research institutes, and industry participated in the event. We hosted a 2-day event on 14-15 Jul 2016 at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre and Nanyang Technological University.

Along with exciting presentations and demonstrations of ROS-I, speakers from the local and international region discussed ROS-I and related topics.

With this, we are announcing the launch of a ROS-Industrial Consortium for the Asia Pacific region. ROS-Industrial Consortium Asia Pacific (RIC Asia Pacific) joins similar organization in Europe and the Americas to expand the outreach of ROS-I. We hope this will be one of the many events and opportunities that RIC Asia Pacific can bring to industrial communities in Asia to support future use of ROS-I in robotic applications.

MOU Signing ceremony represented (from left): Prof Chen I-Ming (NTU-MAE), Paul Hvass (SWRI),  Dr. DavidLow (CEO, ARTC)

MOU Signing ceremony represented (from left): Prof Chen I-Ming (NTU-MAE), Paul Hvass (SWRI),  Dr. DavidLow (CEO, ARTC)

ROS-I Consortium Managers (from left) -Mirko Bordignon (Fraunhofer IPA), Nicholas Yeo (ARTC), Paul Hvass (SwRI)

ROS-I Consortium Managers (from left) -Mirko Bordignon (Fraunhofer IPA), Nicholas Yeo (ARTC), Paul Hvass (SwRI)

Team Delft's ROS-I powered entry wins the APC 2016

We are happy to announce that Team Delft, a team of scientists and engineers from the TU Delft Robotics Institute and Delft Robotics, won the 2016 edition of the Amazon Picking Challenge which has just been held in Leipzig, Germany. The challenge, which you can read about here, aims to automate the "first and last miles of logistics". The task challenged robots to pick objects from containers and put them on shelves (the "stow task") and to pick objects from stocked shelves and put them into containers (the "pick task"). The variety of the objects and the unstructured environment still make this a considerably difficult task.

More information is available on RoboValley's announcement of the victory. Stay tuned for more in-depth posts going over the technical details of this ROS-Industrial success story!

RIC-Americas Meeting Recap (Part 2)

This post features Part 2 of our March RIC-Americas Meeting Recap. Click here to read Part 1, which is about the demonstration day.

In March, more than 50 attendees from 32 organizations attended the RIC-Americas annual meeting. During the meeting, we learned about progress during the past year, and heard from speakers including Morgan Quigley (OSRF), RIC-EU Program Manager Bordignon (Fraunhofer IPA), Nicholas Yeo Chang Yee (ARTC), and Erik Nieves (fmr. Yaskawa and now PlusOne Robotics).

Attendees of the RIC-Americas Meeting.

Attendees of the RIC-Americas Meeting.

Quigley provided an update on the progress of ROS 2.0 and presented the latest data on the performance of the real time capabilities, which includes improved performance of micro second level dither, even with some network congestion.

Bordignon inspired the audience with his presentation of the philosophy and progress of ROS software usage for industrial robotics in Europe, including a number of deployed or productized applications.

Yee shared a look into the modern and flourishing R&D capabilities for remanufacturing at ARTC, which is part of A*STAR in Singapore, and presented ARTC’s vision to launch RIC-Asia Pacific.

Nieves kept us guessing with a riveting story of his personal journey to embrace ROS as a representative of a major robot OEM, and then his venture into the world of supervised autonomy with his startup company PlusOne Robotics.

The attendees broke into four groups for roadmapping activities in a round robin fashion on four topics: motion planning, ease of use, hardware interfaces/interoperability, and ROS core. Five upcoming Focused Technical Projects (FTP):

  • Robotic Blending Milestone 4: Closing the Loop
  • Scan-N-Plan for X: A generalized framework for CAD-free
    high mix part processing
  • CAD-to-ROS Milestone 4: Calibration GUI
  • 6 DOF Slicer Milestone 2
  • NIST Agile Robotics for Industrial Automation Competition
    (ARIAC)

The meeting generated momentum for the coming international expansion. Thanks to our members for your support and collaboration, and a special thanks to the emerging RIC-Asia Pacific for joining us.

Qt Creator IDE Plug-in for ROS

The ROS Qt Creator Plug-in is developed specifically for ROS to increase a developers' efficiency by simplifying tasks and creating a centralized location for ROS tools. Since it is built on top of the Qt Creator platform, users have access to all of its existing features like: syntax highlighting, editors (C++ , Python, etc.), code completion, version control (Git, Subversion, etc.), debuggers (GDB, CDB, LLDB, etc.), and much more.

The ROS Qt Creator Plug-in provides the following capabilities:

  • Import/Create Catkin Workspaces
  • Create Catkin Packages
  • Custom Build and Run Configuration
    • catkin_make (Debug, Release, Release with Debug Info, Minimum Size Release)
    • roslaunch
    • rosrun
    • sourcing workspace
      Note: The Qt Creator Plug-in supports multiple configurations to enable quick switching between configurations, and everything is saved.
  • Integrated Tabbed Terminal
  • Templates
    • Industrial Robot Support Package
    • Basic Launch File
    • Basic URDF File
    • Basic Node File
      Note: Users may create custom templates.

Check out two videos (below). The first (left) is a short overview of the Qt Creator and its default capabilities. The second video (right) is an overview of the ROS Qt Creator Plug-in developed by Levi Armstrong from Southwest Research Institute. It concludes with an invitation for other to begin using the plug-in for ROS development.

ROS-Industrial at RoboBusiness Europe 2016

The European edition of RoboBusiness is growing and quickly becoming an interesting event for "all things robotics" in Europe, from innovative research to new products. Following ROS-Industrial's participation at last year's edition, we had a strong presence at the event which took place June 1-3 in Odense, Denmark.

As RIC-EU Program Manager I presented "ROS-Industrial: bringing open-source robotics innovation to the factory floor". In the same track, Prof. Martijn Wisse from TU Delft, scientific advisor to RIC-EU, spoke about "Increasing the application of robotics and automation in EU". Together we conveyed the concept of using the ROS-Industrial platform as 1) a technology enabler to cross the "valley of death", i.e., the gap between the level of technical maturity at which academic research can bring robot technology and the level required to start its industrial application and commercialization; and 2) an open-source accelerator for the development of advanced robotic applications. As the platform evolves and incorporates new features, it can become for robotics something akin to what Android is for smartphones, that is, a very powerful technology enabler. ROS and ROS-Industrial are now on the radar of most actors in the robotics arena, so ROS(-I)'s maturation into the de-facto standard open-source software platform for robotics is well underway.

ROS-Industrial was also well represented at the exhibition. RIC-EU member BlueWorkforce showcased its Ragnar robot and platform, while Team Delft demonstrated their ROS-I powered entry to the 2016 Amazon Picking Challenge, which has just four weeks to go until the competition takes place in Leipzig, Germany. Best of luck, Team Delft!

It is remarkable that Henrik Christensen, professor at Georgia Tech and director of the Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines, mentioned ROS-Industrial as a noteworthy initiative which he praised as an effort towards much-needed standardization of robotics software. Such standardization is a necessary prerequisite to enable more and more advanced applications of robotics technology.

See you at RoboBusiness Europe 2017, April 20-21 in Delft, the Netherlands!

Legal aspects and best practices of open-source

On April 19-20 Fraunhofer IPA hosted an event organized in collaboration with euRobotics AISBL on the best practices and legal aspects of Open-Source Software (OSS) in robotics and automation. The rationale behind the event was that while OSS is an established and accepted factor in "software-heavy" business domains like enterprise IT systems and smartphones, its inner workings are less understood in industries where software in now shifting from a component with ancillary role to one with high added-value. With the changes poised to happen in industrial robotics and automation by the advances in robotics science on one hand (just think of the progress in autonomous driving and its underpinning achievements in perception, planning, control) and by government-mandated initiatives like Industrie4.0 on the other, the ROS-Industrial team believes that OSS is a great opportunity to accelerate this process. However, to foster its adoption we understandably need to identify and clear also non-technical obstacles such as possible legal, economic and regulatory aspects.

During the event the speakers described to the audience how OSS is already part of established business practices at large companies in the industrial domain; how digital economies are being shaped thanks also to OSS; which regulatory and legal aspects we need to take into account in terms of safety standards, licensing and compliance processes.

Takeaway messages that we want to highlight as they are instrumental in removing unfounded but long-standing critiques of OSS for industrial robots and machinery are:

  • the kind of functionalities that ROS is typically used for, and which sit at the OS/middleware and the application software levels, can be carried out by non-certified software as they live in a "sandbox" protected by the underlying safety-compliant foundation and which includes the electrical/mechanical and safety device/PLC level layers. As I like to say, we do not necessarily aim to replace the software in your robot's control box with ROS (although the software to do that is available), but rather to provide higher-level functionalities like perception-driven, online trajectory generation to let the robot operate in dynamic environments, thing not possible (or very difficult to perform) with the limited sets of preprogrammed motions typical of current automation
  • OSS has a long history of adoption in industrial automation; Linux (especially Linux RT) is a good example of this, and shows that using OSS in commercial products is not only possible, but also beneficial
  • having a compliance process in place (e.g. OpenChain) can ensure that licensing matters are properly dealt with

Given the interest and the feedback collected after the event, we plan on following-up on these topics at the ROS-Industrial Conference next fall, whose program will be made available in the coming weeks.

Things I Learned at OSCon 2016

Last week I had the pleasure of attending OSCon held in Austin, TX. OSCon has been around since 1999 and is a great conference for all things open source. More information on the conference can be found here. Overall the conference was educational and extremely motivational. I intend to regularly attend OSCon and I would recommend it to my colleagues in the open source robotics community. Below are things I learned from OSCon

  • A Historical Perspective
    Open source is not a new idea. According to wikipedia the idea of open source was hatched in the late 1990s. Before open source, there was free software which originated in the 1970s and 80s. For many of us, this history is unknown. We just accept that open source has been adopted by industry, but lack an appreciation for what it took to get it there. Danese Cooper's talk provided a great perspective on this history. The early trailblazers in the open source and free software movements deserve our admiration and respect. This historical perspective is also reassuring to those of us in the Industrial market. We are fighting some of the same battles that were fought early on in the IT market. While ROS-Industrial enjoys the support of the ROS-Industrial Consortium, there are still many industrial companies that remain unconvinced or unsupportive. The acceptance, and some might say dominance of open source in the IT market, illustrates what is possible when early adopters are relentless. It's also much easier when we can point to examples in the IT space, where open source has had a tremendous impact. I can't imagine the hurdles open source encountered in the early days. Imagine convincing businesses, who valued software so greatly, that giving it away is better for the common good and the bottom line. A sincere thank you to those who blazed the trail before us.
  • Building an Open Source Community
    The "Optimizing your project for contribution" presentation by Josh Matthews was perhaps the single most important presentation for me. Josh outlined 5 steps to build your community and make it easier for developers to contribute. These five steps are:
    1. Prioritizing useful information - Document your software and the contribution process from the point of view of a "newbie".
    2. Reducing friction - Make it easy to contribute. Don't make people jump through hoops unnecessarily.
    3. Making expectations clear - Set the expectations for not only contributions, but the review process in general. Provide a timeline for acceptance.
    4. Responding appropriately - Acknowledge every contribution. Contributions take time, and we should consider this when critiquing or requesting changes.
    5. Following through - Follow your own process. Deadlines in particular are of utmost importance. Responding to contributions immediately significantly increases the likelihood of follow on contributions (which ensures your community will grow).
      In the month's to come we will be implementing these ideas in ROS-Industrial. Great things are coming...
  • Open Source Participation is Still Hard for Companies
    While use of open source software has largely been accepted by companies, participation is still difficult. Participation includes everything from financial support to actively committing source code and interacting with the community. Financial support, as we have found with ROS-Industrial is probably the easiest form of support. While financial support is appreciated, and certainly needed, the greatest value of open source is only realized by participating. Participation has several hurdles, not the least of which are legal and IP related. Companies need processes in place to manage open source contributions. The processes need to protect the company while minimizing hurdles to contributing. How do companies create this processes...in the open of course. The TODO group, which stands for "Talk openly, develop openly" was organized for companies to cooperatively develop practices for contributing to open source and sharing experiences.
  • Community Leadership Summit
    This summit is held before OSCon. One of the reasons I attend OSCon was to get ideas for how to lead and grow the ROS-Industrial community. Just about everyone I talked to recommended I attend the Community Leadership Summit. The summit is always held before OSCon. It brings together community leaders across the open source world to discuss strategies for building communities. I won't miss this next year.
  • Thank You Lawyers
    I attended several presentations on the legal aspects of open source. We owe a debt of gratitude to lawyers at the OSI, Apache Foundation, and others for ensuring the open source software will remain open and protected from legal claims. They have ensured that the idea of open source and the true intent of developers is protected.

Upcoming ROS-I Events

Save the date for these upcoming events! For more details, refer to the events page.

  • 31 May, 10 AM Central, ROS-I Roadmapping (RIC Members): ROS-I Consortium members and/or ROS-I package administrators, please attend the upcoming ROS-I roadmapping event on Tuesday, May 31, 2016. The virtual meeting will use Anymeeting. Keep an eye out for the invitation.
    • Hosts: Paul Hvass (SwRI) and Ron Brown (EWI)
    • Agenda: We will share the current state of the ROS-I roadmap and will discuss ideas for new enhancement proposals.

  • 14 June, 9 AM Central, ROS-I Community Meeting (Public, Registration Required): Join us for the next series of presentations and discussion about ROS-Industrial. Here is the agenda:
    • Host: Paul Hvass, SwRI
    • Agenda:
    • Initiative to Create a PackML State Machine Library for ROS-I, Lex Tinker-Sackett, 3M
    • UT NRG Planned Code Release, Mitch Pryor, UT NRG
    • Multi-arm Control in MoveIt!, Dave Coleman, CU Corell Lab
    • Industrial CI, Issac Saito, TORK
    • Open Discussion
  • 14-15 July, 8:30 AM SGT, ROS-I Asia-Pacific Workshop (Public, Registration Required):
    • Hosts: Nicholas Yeo (*ASTAR ARTC), I-Ming Chen (NTU)
    • Agenda: ROS-I Asia Pacific Workshop will take place in Singapore between 14th and 15th of July. We are excited to bring the ROS-I workshop to Asia for the first time.
  • 21 August, ARIAC Competition Kickoff at CASE Conference (Open to Conference Attendees):
    • Host: Craig Schlenoff, NIST
    • Agenda: We invite you to attend the Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (CASE), where we will have the official competition kickoff and workshop on Sunday, August 21.

Modbot at Hannover Messe 2016

Submitted by Saroya Whatley and Shawn Schaerer, Modbot

At Modbot, we make science fiction a reality by creating modular robotic parts that are easily snapped together to create a variety of robotic configurations servicing many different applications. By developing a system of modular joints and links that can be mass produced, Modbot is able to deliver industrial quality motion control at prices accessible by both larger manufacturing firms as well as makers and startups. The Modbot platform also includes a pendant software that can be accessed via the cloud or locally on a computer or tablet (Windows, OS X, iOS, Android). The software allows the user to not only program a Modbot robot with the touch of a button, but also simulate various robotic configurations in the virtual robot builder and build custom graphical user interfaces. The Modbot platform puts the power and precision of high-end machinery into an easy-to-assemble, simple to understand package.

Modbot Alpha Robot Demo at Hannover Messe 2016 (Photo: Shawn Schaerer)

Modbot Alpha Robot Demo at Hannover Messe 2016 (Photo: Shawn Schaerer)

The ROS-Industrial Consortium has been a valuable resource and feedback engine with regards to the development of Modbot's modular robotics system. As a member of the Consortium, Modbot works closely with the Consortium to use, develop and promote ROS Industrial. Currently, Modbot is working with the Consortium to release the CAD to ROS URDF Editor application.

Team Delft APC 2016 Progress

Team Delft has qualified as one of the 16 finalist teams for the Amazon Picking Challenge 2016. The team is a joint effort of the startup Delft Robotics (Kanter van Deurzen a.o.) and TU Delft Robotics Institute (Carlos Hernandez Corbato a.o.), supported by the RoboValley initiative (www.robovalley.com)

The goal of the Amazon challenge is “to strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions to some of the big problems in unstructured automation." In order to spur the advancement of these fundamental technologies, there will be two parallel competitions: the Pick Task, and the Stow Task. For the Pick Task, target items for an Amazon order have to be removed from a standard shelf in Amazon warehouses and placed into a tote. The Stow Task requires the reverse: target items have to be taken from a tote and stowed into the bins of the shelf. These tasks involve challenges in object recognition, grasping, dexterous manipulation, and motion planning.

Since January, Team Delft has been developing an industrial grade robotic system for the challenge. It involves a 7 degree-of-freedom Motoman robot mounted on a rail, courtesy of Yaskawa (sponsor). Ensenso cameras from sponsor Imagining Development Systems will feed high quality 3D images to a vision pipeline for object recognition and localization using Deep Learning techniques. The team is fully committed to the ROS-Industrial initiative. ROS and ROS-Industrial components for motion planning, robot control, grasping, and PointCloud processing will be integrated into a fault-tolerant control architecture for the robot.

Application video of Team Delft to qualify as finalists for the Amazon Picking Challenge.

The Amazon Picking Challenge will be held in conjunction with RoboCup 2016 in Leipzig, Germany from June 30 to July 3, 2016.

Follow Team Delft at: @teamdelft_apc

For more information about the Amazon Picking Challenge, please visit http://amazonpickingchallenge.org/

Simulated Robot Agility Competition Update

Submission courtesy of William Harrison, NIST

This is a short update for those who have interest in participating in the International Agile Robotics for Industrial Automation Competition (ARIAC). Here are some things you should be aware of:

  • We invite you to attend the Conference on Automation Science and Engineering (CASE) (August 21-24), where we will have the official competition kickoff. All of the specific information about the conference will be presented at a full day workshop. We will have academic, industrial and government speakers the first part of the day. The second part of the day will be tutorials and training to give you the best jump start on learning the software and tools necessary for the competition.
  • If you can't make our workshop, we are holding a live webinar so you can still take advantage of the talks, training, and tutorials.
  • The actual competition is expected to be held in early 2017 in the cloud, so no travel is necessary.
  • Winners will be showcased at CASE 2017

If you are interested in Speaking at our workshop there are still spots available. Speakers who make it to CASE, will have the option of being listed as cosponsors of the competition. If you would like to speak or be involved in some other way please contact us.

Recap: ROS-I Training Spring 2016

Spring ROS-Industrial Basic Developers Training classes gave participants an opportunity to learn new skills through hands-on training. The ROS-Industrial Developers’ Training Class was held April 6 - 8, 2016 at SwRI, in San Antonio, Texas where the ROS-I Consortium Americas is based.

On April 6 the class reviewed ROS packages, parameters, topics, messages, launch files and URDF's. The first day ended with a tour of a SwRI labs and campus where the participants were able to see several ROS applications as well as get a better idea of Southwest Research Institute facilities. The rest of training took developers through foundational robot manipulation (with an introduction to Descartes and other path planners) and perception with a multi-option lab day. The lessons can be found here. Participants from 3M, ABB, Bastian, IDEXX, John Deere, JR Automation, Smart Robotics (Japan) and one student from the Make School attended. Check out the pictures (below).

Many thanks for Jonathan Meyer, Levi Armstrong, Shaun Edwards, and Christina Gomez from SwRI for this year's training.

students independently walking through an online exercise while jonathan clarifies a point

students independently walking through an online exercise while jonathan clarifies a point

all students bring their own laptops with a virtual machine that is set up and ready to go; levi approaches a student with a question

all students bring their own laptops with a virtual machine that is set up and ready to go; levi approaches a student with a question

The full class with  Swri ROS-Industrial support staff included

The full class with  Swri ROS-Industrial support staff included

Industrial Calibration Library Updates

The ROS-I Industrial Calibration Library is the result of an internally funded SwRI project and has the following capabilities:

  • Intrinsic camera calibration
  • Extrinsic 2D/3D sensor calibration for
    • Arrays of heterogeneous sensors
    • Sensor(s) on moving/non-moving frames
    • Coordination with robot motion
  • Accuracy field estimation

Check out two recent videos (below). The first is a short overview of the Industrial Calibration Library. It concludes with an invitation for others to use the library for their applications. Our second video is an example use case of extrinsic calibration between a robot and a David sensor, courtesy of Victor Lamoine from Institut Maupertuis. Let us know how you are using the Industrial Calibration Library!

Get the Legal and Economic Scoop for OSS in Robotics & Automation

As the technical value of Open-Source Software (OSS) is gaining acceptance in Industrial Robotics and Automation, our daily interaction with the key stakeholders operating in this field (OEMs, system integrators, startups, end users) has made us realize that the limiting factor to its further diffusion lies elsewhere. If Linux is a widely used and respected choice in IT, what is preventing open-source robotics frameworks to becoming accepted to the same extent in our field?

In our experience, current concerns are mostly centered around:

  • Legal aspects: what are the implications in terms of liability of using OSS in my products, installations, and plants? How do the different open-source licensing schemes work?
  • Economics concerns: can I build a sustainable business model over Open Source? Is my intellectual property at risk?

To help answer these questions and to support potential adopters of OSS in their decision process, Fraunhofer IPA and euRobotics AISBL is offering an event on April 19-20 in Stuttgart, Germany featuring selected speakers providing insight from the technical, economic and legal domains. It is a one-of-a-kind chance to get a comprehensive overview of these aspects and, even more importantly, get answers to your questions and voice your concerns.

For more information, including a detailed program and registration info, please refer to the following webpage.

I look forward to welcoming you in Stuttgart!

Your RIC-EU Program Manager,
Mirko Bordignon

Robotic Product Singulation Testbed

We are excited to post our 50th ROS-I video: Robotic Product Singulation Testbed. This project was demonstrated during the Annual Meeting and is a collaborative development between ABB and SwRI to create a commercial product for warehouse automation. It highlights that, with some optimization, ROS-I applications can exhibit fast cycle times, without sacrificing the intelligence afforded by ROS. A scale demonstration of this technology will be on display next week at MODEX 2016, booth MA 957 (Baldor/ABB).