Highlights from ICRA relevant to ROS & ROS-Industrial

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The International Conference on Robotics and Automation, commonly known as ICRA, is one of the premier global events for showcasing the latest and greatest results in robotics research. This year ICRA was held in Montreal, Canada, back in North America for the first time since Seattle in 2015.

ICRA is largely a forum for academic research labs to showcase their most recent results, which aim to be exploratory and forward-looking rather than off-the-shelf solutions ready for immediate adoption into industry. Nevertheless, there was still quite a bit of noteworthy technology and results on display. It was very impressive to see the huge variety of areas that researchers are exploring within robotics and the large amount of creativity on display in new approaches and algorithms.

The scale of ICRA was enormous this year, with over 1,200 papers presented over the course of the three-day conference. Along with the plenary sessions, keynote talks, and industry exhibitions, there was far too much to see and do. With such a high volume of content, a classic conference format of multiple tracks where each author presents to a sitting audience was simply not possible. Instead, the organizers opted for an interesting alternative of interactive presentations where the authors stood by a poster describing their work and conference attendees were free to spend as much time as they wanted discussing the work with the author. The new twist that I hadn’t seen before was that all presentations took place in the same large exhibition hall simultaneously, in sessions that each contained about 130-150 posters. The posters were spread throughout the hall on the outside of free-standing structures that had partitioned spaces for each poster, which were called the PODS. The PODS all being colocated in a single room created a very casual atmosphere with a lot of exploration and discussion with the paper authors.

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Photo courtesy of Rishi Malhan, University of Southern California

To conclude, I wanted to highlight a few contributions that are interesting for the use of ROS or for connections to ROS-Industrial. Definitely keep an eye out for these papers to appear on IEEE Xplore soon and take a look!

Reinforcement Learning on Variable Impedance Controller for High-Precision Robotic Assembly

Jianlan Luo, Eugen Solowjow, Chengtao Wen, Juan Aparicio Ojea, Alice Agogino, Aviv Tamar, Pieter Abbeel

Here the authors address the problem of autonomous and intelligent robotic assembly, and had presented this work at the most recent ROS-Industrial annual meeting. They use a Rethink Robotics Sawyer robot (which is controlled through ROS) to perform precision assembly of a set of gears using reinforcement learning and neural networks. The core idea is that successful completion of assembly tasks requires knowledge about the types of contacts and constraints involved, such as aligning a peg with the axis of a hole before it can be inserted. Rather than having the system designer spend time and effort providing manual descriptions of these constraints, their method allows them to be learned directly from the robot’s experience. As can be seen in the video below, the robot is able to quickly learn how to deal with a number of different contacts when performing multiple different assembly tasks. This is a great demonstration of bringing machine learning into robot behaviors for industrial tasks and it will be fascinating to see how this area develops in the near future.

Assembly Video

CartesI/O: A ROS Based Real-Time Capable Cartesian Control Framework

Arturo Laurenzi, Enrico Mingo, Luca Muratore, Nikos Tsagarakis

In work that follows their participation in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, the authors introduce a framework for performing real-time Cartesian control of platforms with many degrees-of-freedom within a ROS system. The framework is designed to support having the controller solver run inside the real-time control loop so that the robot can react immediately to any change in the desired input. Each Cartesian controller is specific to a particular platform and particular task, but the authors provide interface layers to abstract away much of common logic that would have to be repeatedly implemented in different implementations. By supporting the ROS URDF format, constraints or desired behaviors can be specified for links. Furthermore, each task will have an auto-generated ROS API available that enables very high level input about the task goals and provides information about the current task status. This allows a user to perform basic scripting of robot behaviors using something a simple as a short Python script, for example. This framework can be seen driving the 28 DoF COMAN+ humanoid and the 39 DoF CENTAURO quadruped robots in the video below.

CartesI/O Video

MoveIt! Task Constructor for Task-Level Motion Planning

Michael Görner, Robert Haschke, Helge Joachim Ritter, Jianwei Zhang

Here the authors provide a software tool and framework for extending MoveIt to more naturally handle planning of entire robot tasks. For nontrivial tasks, the overall robot motion is typically broken into multiple distinct pieces, each of which has its own set of planning challenges. For example, when performing a pick-and-place task, the robot has to separately create plans for approaching the object, grasping it, moving the object to the place area, and releasing it at the place point. The authors formalize a framework for each of these stages and how each one may depend on others. For example, the grasp selection will affect where the manipulator should move to at both the pick and place positions. The framework is arbitrarily scalable and allows system designers to create descriptions of entire tasks that MoveIt can solve with relative ease. The authors have open-sourced the software on GitHub (https://github.com/ros-planning/moveit_task_constructor) and are hopeful the framework will go on to become a central tool for task planning using MoveIt.

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Planning a pouring task with displays for how the robot picks up the bottle (center), creates the pouring motion (left), and places it back on the table (right)

Field notes from Automate 2019, and why we’re bullish on ROS2

What makes a good industrial automation demonstration? When we started preparing for Automate 2019 back in January, a few key points came to mind. Our specialty in SwRI’s Manufacturing and Robotics Technology Department is advanced robotic perception and planning, so we decided that the robot should perform an authentic dynamic scan-and-plan process on a previously-unseen scene – as far away as we could get from a “canned” demo. We also wanted the demo to be an interactive experience to help drive discussion with visitors and entertain onlookers. These goals led us to the tube threading concept: a human would bend a piece of shiny metal tubing into a novel shape, and the robot would perceive it and plan a path to sweep a ring along it.

Michael Ripperger & Joseph Schornak on location at Automate 2019

Michael Ripperger & Joseph Schornak on location at Automate 2019

Developing a demo system presents an opportunity to explore new ideas in a low-risk environment because the schedule and deliverables are primarily internally-motivated. Since my group had limited previous exposure to ROS2, we decided that our Automate demo should use ROS2 to the greatest possible extent. The original vision was that the system would be entirely composed of ROS2 nodes. However, due to the practical requirements of getting everything working before the ship date, we decided to use a joint ROS/ROS2 environment, with ROS motion planning and the GUI nodes communicating with the ROS2 perception nodes across the ROS-to-ROS2 bridge

ROS2 Strengths and Challenges

In contrast to virtually every other robotics project I’ve worked on, the demo system’s perception pipeline worked consistently and reliably. Intel maintains a ROS2 driver for Realsense RGB-D cameras, which allowed us to use the D435 camera without any customization or extra development. Our YAK surface reconstruction library based on the Truncated Signed Distance Field algorithm helped us avoid the interreflection issues that would usually plague perception of shiny surfaces. After a couple afternoons spent learning how to use new-to-me VTK libraries, the mesh-to-waypoint postprocessor could consistently convert tube scans into trajectory waypoints. More information about this software is available from the SwRI press release or the writeup in Manufacturing Automation.

Block Diagram of SwRI ROS-I Automate 2019 Demonstration

Block Diagram of SwRI ROS-I Automate 2019 Demonstration

Motion planning turned out to be a particularly challenging problem. Compared to a traditional robot motion task like pick-and-place, which involves planning unconstrained paths through open space, the kinematic constraints of the tube threading problem are rather bizarre. While the ring tool is axially underconstrained and can be rotated freely to the most convenient orientation, it is critical that it remain aligned with the axis of the tube to avoid collision. It’s impossible to flip the ring once it’s over the tube, so if the chosen ring orientation causes the robot to encounter a joint limit halfway down the tube, tough luck! Additionally, the robot must avoid collision between the tube and robot hardware during motion. Our initial solution used Trajopt by itself, but it would sometimes introduce unallowable joint flips since it tried to optimize every path waypoint at once without a globally-optimal perspective on how best to transition between those waypoints. We added the Descartes sampling algorithm, which addressed these issues by populating Trajopt’s seed trajectory with an approximate globally-optimal path that satisfied these kinematic and collision constraints. Planning still failed occasionally: even with a kinematically-redundant Kuka iiwa7 arm, solving paths for certain tube configurations simply wasn’t feasible[^1].

TrajOpt Path Planning Implementation & Testing

TrajOpt Path Planning Implementation & Testing

[^1]: The extent of solvable tube configurations could be greatly increased by including the turntable as a controllable motion axis. Given the constraints of the iiwa7’s ROS driver, we decided that this would be, in technical software terms, a whole other can of worms.

We shipped the robot hardware about a week in advance of the exhibit setup deadline. Our reliance on ROS meant we could switch to simulation with minimal hassle, but there were some lingering issues with the controller-side software that had to wait until we were reunited with the robot the Saturday before the show[^2]. This contributed to moderate anxiety on Sunday evening as we worked to debug the system using real-world data. We had to cut some fun peripherals due to time constraints, such as the handheld ring wand that would let visitors race the robot. By Tuesday morning the robot was running consistently, provided we didn’t ask it to solve paths for too-complicated tubes. This freed up some time for me to walk the halls away from our booth and talk to other exhibitors and visitors.

[^2]: Our lunch upon arrival was Chicago-style deep dish pizza, which conveniently doubled as dinner that evening.

More Collaborative Robots

There were collaborative robots of all shapes and sizes on display from many manufacturers. I may have seen nearly the same number of collaborative robots as traditional ones! A handful were programmed to interact with visitors, offering lanyards and other branded largesse to passersby. Most of them were doing “normal robot things,” albeit intermingled with crowds of visitors without any cages of barriers, and generally at a much more sedate pace compared to the traditional robots. Some of the non-collaborative robots were demonstrating safety sensors that let them slow down and stop as visitors approached them -- I usually discovered these by triggering them accidentally.

I was surprised by the number of autonomous forklifts and pallet transporters. I’m told that there were more in 2019 than at previous shows, so I’m curious about what recent developments drove growth in this space.

I learned that ROS-Industrial has significant brand recognition. I got pulled into several conversations solely because I was wearing a ROS-I polo! Many of these discussions turned to ROS2, which produced some interesting insights. Your average roboticist-on-the-street is aware of ROS2 (no doubt having read about it on this very blog), but their understanding of its capabilities and current condition might be rather fuzzy. Many weren’t sure how to describe the key differences between ROS and ROS2, and a few weren’t even aware that ROS2 has been out in the wild for three versions! I’ll unscientifically hypothesize that a key challenge blocking wider ROS2 adoption is the lack of demonstrated success on high-visibility projects. Our demo drove some good conversation to alleviate these concerns: I could show a publicly-visible robotic system heavily reliant on ROS2 and point to the open-source native ROS2 device drivers that let it function.

Showcasing Perception and Planning Potential

In terms of demo reception, people who visited our booth were impressed that we were scanning and running trajectories on previously-unseen parts. I usually had to provide additional context to show how our perception and planning pipeline could be extended to other kinds of industrial applications. There’s a tricky balance at play here – an overly abstract demo requires some imagination on the part of the viewer to connect it to an industrial use case, but a highly application-specific demo isn’t easily generalized beyond the task at hand. Since our group specializes in application-generic robot perception and planning, I think that a demo tending towards the abstract better showcases our areas of proficiency. This is a drastically different focus from other exhibits at the show, which generally advertised a specific automation process or turnkey product. I feel like we successfully reached our target audience of people with difficult automation tasks not addressed by off-the-shelf solutions.

Development of the Industrial YAK reconstruction for the Automate Demo in ROS2

Development of the Industrial YAK reconstruction for the Automate Demo in ROS2

While it certainly would have been easier to adapt an already-polished system to serve as a show demo, developing a completely new one from scratch was way more fun. Improvements made to our perception and planning software were pushed back upstream and rolled into other ongoing projects. We’re now much more comfortable with ROS2, to the extent that we’ve decided that from here on out new robotics projects will be developed using ROS2. The show was a lot of fun, a great time was had by all, and I hope to see you at Automate 2021!

ROS Industrial Conference #RICEU2018 (Session 4)

From public funding opportunities to the latest technologies in software and system integration, the combination of robotics and IT to hardware and application highlights: ROS-Industrial Conference 2018 offered a varied and top-class programme to more than 150 attendees. For the sixth time already, Fraunhofer IPA organized a ROS event in Stuttgart to present the status of ROS in Europe and to discuss existing challenges.

This is the fourth instalment of a series of four consecutive blog posts, presenting content and discussions according to the sessions:

  1. EU ROS Updates (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  2. Software and system integration (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  3. Robotics meets IT (watch all but 1 talks in this YouTube playlist)
  4. Hardware and application highlights (watch all but 1 talks in this YouTube playlist)

Day 3 - Session “Hardware and Application Highlights“

Georg Heppner (FZI) and Fabian Fürst (Opel) At ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Georg Heppner (FZI) and Fabian Fürst (Opel) At ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

In the fourth and final session of the ROS-Industrial Conference 2018, the focus was on hardware developments and applications implemented in industrial use cases. Fabian Fuerst, Opel, and Georg Heppner, FZI, delivered the session keynote. They presented their solution for flexible automotive assembly with industrial robotic co-workers. The application was developed as part of the EU EuRoC project. In this four-year competition, more than 100 participants initially worked on new robotic solutions for the manufacturing industry. In the course of several evaluation rounds, the team from FZI, Opel and MRK Systeme GmbH was able to assert itself successfully to the end.

During the course of the project, the FZI developed an automated robotic assembly for flexible polymer door sealings on car doors. The sealing is a closed ring, which has to be fixed with up to 40 plastic pins depending on the model, an ergonomically unfavourable task that could not be automated until now. The developed assembly cell is very flexible and open, so that the robot can be used without a safety fence. For this purpose, an external force control was developed that can be used easily and directly also for numerous other robots as a package of ROS-Industrial. The CAD-2-PATH software is used for the simple path creation for the robot. This enables a quick adjustment to other door models and does not require any expert knowledge. This is important because there are different door models and sealing types and the automation solution must be adaptable accordingly and quickly. It is notable that the application received positive assessment from Opel with regards to safety, typically a sensitive topic when applying novel tools such as ROS in automotive applications.

Paul Evans (Southwest Research Institute / ROS-Industrial North America) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Paul Evans (Southwest Research Institute / ROS-Industrial North America) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

The presentation by Paul Evans, Southwest Research Institute and ROS-Industrial Consortium North Americas, provided current information on the activities of the North America Consortium such as strategic initiatives, trainings, and networking activities. These also focus on voices of members and include activities for the strategy alignment, for more robustness and flexibility and agility. There are also collaborations with OEMs who support ROS or develop their own drivers. At the ROS-I Consortium Americas Annual Meeting 2018, different applications were presented, for example an order batch picking robot from Bastian Solutions and a robotic system for agile aerospace applications like sanding, blending, drilling etc. for the U.S. Air Force. A last highlight that Evans presented was the ROS-I collaboration with BMW and Microsoft. While RIC-North Americas supported the evaluation of simulation environments that included physics engines the RIC-EU partners provided additional navigation support and training for mobile robots at the BMW plant to support assembly logistics. The solution is deployed on Microsoft Azure.

Mobile robots was also the topic of the lecture by Karsten Bohlmann, E&K Automation. He presented solutions for ROS on AGVs and perception-driven load handling and PLC interfaces.

Arun Damodaran (Denso) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Arun Damodaran (Denso) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Denso Robotics Europe was present at the conference with Arun Damodaran, who talked about Cobotta, the ROS-enabled collaborative robot. This is a six-axis arm with a reach of 342 mm, a repeatability of 0,05 mm and a payload of 500 g. It has an inherently safe design, meets all requirements for safety-standards corresponding to the ISO norms and is compliant thanks to safety-rated monitored function. Another advantage is its easy set-up and use. This is realized by the usage of the robot programming software drag&bot. Developed by the spin-off of the same name of Fraunhofer IPA, the software enables the programming of robots like Cobotta with the drag and drop principle. No expert knowledge is needed. The software is also based on ROS, works independently from any robot manufacturer and can be reused as well as shared via the cloud. Denso has been engaged in the development of ROS components and packages (simulation, control, path creating) for its robots since 2012 and now uses an open platform for controlling the Cobotta.

Felipe Garcia Lopez from Fraunhofer IPA focused on a networked navigation solution for mobile robots in industrial applications. This is particularly useful for changing environments in which mobile robots should independently select free routes. Fraunhofer IPA and Bär Automation, for example, have implemented a navigation solution for agile assembly in automobile production. With this, AGVs can locate themselves robustly and precisely based on sensor data, even without special infrastructure. This makes it possible to easily adapt existing paths or integrate new ones even after commissioning. Since the software's sensor fusion module can process data from almost any sensor, very customer-specific solutions can be implemented.

Another example is the networked navigation for smart transport robots at BMW. Here as well there were few static landmarks, a lot of dynamic obstacles and sparse sensor data in large-scale environments. A process reliability of more than 99% had to be fulfilled. The presented navigation as well as the vehicle control are ROS-based. At the end of the presentation, an outlook into Cloud-Navigation was given: Mobile robots and stationary sensors are then connected using a Cloud-based IT-infrastructure. The environment is cooperatively modelled and SLAM is used. This enables also solutions for “Navigation-as-a-service” meaning map updates and cooperative path planning for each robot. With Cloud-Navigation, local hardware and computational resources can be reduced and the quality and flexibility of the overall navigation system is enhanced.

Thomas Pilz (Pilz GmbH & Co. KG) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Thomas Pilz (Pilz GmbH & Co. KG) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

ROS as an appropriate solution both inside and outside of industry – this was the starting point for Thomas Pilz, Managing Partner of family owned company Pilz. Combined with his own career and his experience with the first service robots, lightweight robots and robots outside production environments, he first described how the question of safety standards has changed in recent years. The definition and understanding of a robot is currently in the process of changing significantly. For Pilz, systems such as the Care-O-bot® from Fraunhofer IPA are the new upcoming robots. They operate outside of cages, are mobile and users can easily interact with them and program them using ROS. He sees ROS as a success factor for service robots because of its modular design, its standardization, additional flexibility through programming languages and its networked, interoperable system in line with Industry 4.0.

Robots that are to interact with humans are also changing the required safety technology at Pilz in the long term because all previous infrastructure such as fences is no longer required. This led Pilz to develop its own robot arm with appropriate safety technology. They use ROS modules developed by Pilz because they are breaking new ground with the development of the robot arm and can thus fall back on a broad programming knowledge base. They had nothing to lose with the new product. However, in order for them to meet the safety standards, the modules must no longer be changed in an uncontrolled manner. To improve this, Pilz recommends changing the safety standards so that they are also amenable to Open Source. Finally yet importantly, he believes that the term robot manufacturer will also change, because this role will increasingly be fulfilled by those who implement the application and no longer by those who produce the robot or components for it. In the lively discussion after the presentation, Pilz once again emphasized two arguments in favour of ROS. First: When it is said that ROS is tedious, one should bear in mind that the development of proprietary software is also difficult. Second: ROS is tedious, but fun. Pilz also sees ROS as a decisive factor for employee satisfaction and as an argument for staying with Pilz.

At the end of the conference, Gaël Blondel from the Eclipse Foundation presented the Eclipse Foundation and its Robotics Activities. The platform with around 280 corporate members, half of them from Europe, provides a mature, scalable, and business-friendly environment for open source software collaboration and innovation. Eclipse is vendor-neutral and offers a business-friendly ecosystem based on extensible platforms. They offer their own IP management and licensing but also accept other business-friendly licenses. Several working groups are particularly engaged in development processes for robotics. One example for a robotic project managed with Eclipse is the EU project RobMoSys that aims to coordinate the whole community’s best and consorted efforts to realise a step-change towards a European ecosystem for open and sustainable industry-grade software development.

At the end of the event, Mirko Bordignon and Thilo Zimmermann thanked the participants for another great and record breaking ROS-Industrial Conference. Presentations and videos of the event have been made available on the event website: https://rosindustrial.org/events/2018/12/11/ros-industrial-conference-2018

ROS Industrial Conference #RICEU2018 (Session 3)

From public funding opportunities to the latest technologies in software and system integration, the combination of robotics and IT to hardware and application highlights: ROS-Industrial Conference 2018 offered a varied and top-class programme to more than 150 attendees. For the sixth time already, Fraunhofer IPA organized a ROS event in Stuttgart to present the status of ROS in Europe and to discuss existing challenges.

This is the third instalment of a series of four consecutive blog posts, presenting content and discussions according to the sessions:

  1. EU ROS Updates (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  2. Software and system integration (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  3. Robotics meets IT (watch all but 1 talks in this YouTube playlist)
  4. Hardware and application highlights

Day 2 - Session “Robotics meets IT“

Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

The third session testified the growing importance of ROS to support the development and deployment of robotic solutions from companies outside the traditional boundaries of this industry. Predominantly software players such as Amazon or Google now offer platforms leveraging ROS, which they described during the session.

Henrik Christensen, from UC San Diego and ROBO Global, gave a very inspiring keynote speech on why robotics is increasingly using cloud technologies and how it will benefit from them. He outlined three factors as current business drivers for this development: the increasing demand for flexibility in production, the aging world population and the associated increasing demand for service robots at home, and finally the trend that more and more people live in cities, posing great challenges for logistics. All robot solutions must be cost-efficient and robust at the same time in order to offer the required reliability. If computer performance always had to be on board, the hardware would often be inadequate (e.g. for slim service robots for private use) or the costs for suitable hardware would be too high (e.g. for autonomous cars).

Technologies from or in the cloud can be a solution for this. Christensen presented the value of these ecosystems using extensive market examples and explained how they differ in agility and size. Many successful companies, primarily in the USA and Asia, have shifted their business model from owning things or technologies to orchestrating them and offering services. For robotics, ROS 2.0 can be a decisive door opener here, offering the standardization required for platforms.

Milad Geravand (Bosch Engineering) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Milad Geravand (Bosch Engineering) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

The next presentations in the session took up these and similar ideas and presented existing solutions. Milad Geravand from Bosch Engineering presented a modular software platform for mobile systems such as cleaning, off-road and intralogistics robots and how they can be developed more efficiently. In his experience, the difficulties in the development process are similar in many companies: The applications are usually very different, the software is becoming increasingly complex, a structured deployment and integration process is lacking. ROS is not yet ready for the products and the leap from prototype to series production is still too big. With the software platform presented, which is based on ROS, Bosch would therefore like to address precisely these challenges and enable uses cases to be developed quickly and reliably.

Eric Jensen, working for Canonical, the company well known for the Ubuntu Linux distribution, presented the advantages of Ubuntu Core especially with regard to security that is still an open issue for ROS. The mentioned advantages are: A minimal, transactional Ubuntu for appliances, safe and reliable updates with tests and rollbacks, app containment and isolation with managed access to resources, a unique development environment familiar for Linux developers and the possibility to easily create app stores for all devices needed. Furthermore, Ubuntu has one of the biggest developer communities in the world and is backed by Canonical itself, an important plus for security. Last but not least, the system offers automatic security warnings for the „snaps“, the special package format in Ubuntu, system audits through package verification and compliance management – all are important features for an improved security.

Roger Barga (Amazon AWS) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Roger Barga (Amazon AWS) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Only a few weeks before the ROS-Industrial-Conference, Amazon, for a long time far more than an e-commerce store, had introduced its new platform AWS RoboMaker, which caused a sensation beyond the ROS-Community. Roger Barga, General Manager at AWS Robotics & Autonomous Services, kindly presented this novel development at the conference. Amazon's commitment to robotics is based on discussions with around 100 companies, during which they were able to identify two main problems in robot development. On the one hand, this is a very high demand for automation solutions with simultaneous difficulties with ROS such as security or performance. On the other hand, the development process is usually very inefficient.

The RoboMaker platform addresses these requirements with its four main components. It offers a browser-based development environment, which in turn has integrated cloud extensions for ROS as well as a simulation environment. The cloud extensions range from machine learning tools to monitoring and analytics. Concrete capabilities for robots include speech recognition and output, video streaming, image and video analysis, as well as logging and monitoring with Amazon CloudWatch. The simulation environment allows thousands of simulations to be run in parallel. The fourth component is fleet management, so that robot applications can be deployed over the air. The presentation ended with a short introduction to the learning environment of RoboMaker, with which Amazon applies reinforcement learning to robots. The robots then learn according to the principle "trial and error". By merging all errors within a fleet in the cloud, a large knowledge base is quickly available and not every single robot has to make a specific error to learn from, but it benefits from the learning experiences of other robots in the fleet.

The topic of robotics in the cloud was also the focus of the lecture by Christian Henkel from Fraunhofer IPA. In his experience, the deployment of ROS-based applications on distributed systems such as mobile robots is still too great a challenge, which he would like to address in his work with docker containers (dockeROS). With his solution, it is possible to simply run ros nodes in docker containers on remote robots.

Martin Hägele (Fraunhofer IPA) moderates a panel discussion with Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego), Oliver Goetz (SAP), Michael Grupp (magazino), Niels Jul Jacobsen (MiR) and Damon Kohler (Google).

Martin Hägele (Fraunhofer IPA) moderates a panel discussion with Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego), Oliver Goetz (SAP), Michael Grupp (magazino), Niels Jul Jacobsen (MiR) and Damon Kohler (Google).

With Damon Kohler, Google Robotics and its recently presented cloud solution were also represented at the conference. In his introductory remarks, Kohler mentioned several challenges related to cloud robotics, including security, connectivity and latency, and distributing work, e.g. partitioning problems. In contrast, he sees advantages such as scalability, collaborative perception and behaviour and a robust change management and monitoring. He sees cloud robotics as a further development of the well-known principle "sense -> plan -> act" around the component "sense -> share -> plan -> act" and as an interplay of edge and cloud processing.

The aims of cloud robotics are an increased launch cadence, more data and more users and a better resource utilization. This shall be reached by infrastructure as a service, design for small and decoupled components as well as tools for automation and orchestration. The ROS nodes correspond to the Google micro-services: They are stateless and replicable, which means horizontally scalable. The container orchestration engine Kubernetes helps to deploy and release these micro-services. Several mature and robust logging and monitoring tools like Stackdriver help managing the system. The heart of the whole is the Cloud Robotics Core, being available from beginning of 2019 that enables to integrate Kubernetes on robots. Overall, Google’s vision is an open platform and a thriving ecosystem where integrators, developers, hardware developers and operators can collaborate with customers efficiently.

The second day of the conference ended with a panel discussion. The panellists were Henrik Christensen (UC San Diego), Oliver Goetz (SAP), Michael Grupp (magazino), Niels Jul Jacobsen (MiR) and Damon Kohler (Google). Moderated by Martin Hägele (Fraunhofer IPA), they summed up some advantages from their respective company perspectives, but also existing challenges of ROS and the role of open source software and robotics for their corporate strategy.

ROS Industrial Conference #RICEU2018 (Session 2)

From public funding opportunities to the latest technologies in software and system integration, the combination of robotics and IT to hardware and application highlights: ROS-Industrial Conference 2018 offered a varied and top-class programme to more than 150 attendees. For the sixth time already, Fraunhofer IPA organized a ROS event in Stuttgart to present the status of ROS in Europe and to discuss existing challenges.

This is the second instalment of a series of four consecutive blog posts, presenting content and discussions according to the sessions:

  1. EU ROS Updates (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  2. Software and system integration (watch all talks in this YouTube playlist)
  3. Robotics meets IT
  4. Hardware and application highlights

Day 2 - Session “Software and System Integration Topics“

Dave Coleman (PickNik) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Dave Coleman (PickNik) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

The second day of the conference started with the session "Software and System Integration Topics". Dave Coleman, founder of Picknik Consulting and lead maintainer of MoveIt!, opened the session with a very personal keynote about his commitment to open source software, from his student days to his role as an entrepreneur. He reported how he got in touch with the beginnings of ROS at Willow Garage and highlighted the unique spirit with which the project was incubated. He introduced the successful MoveIt! library, shared his lessons learned and the challenges which many open source projects face. As a proof of how Open Source and business can successfully coexist, he described the founding of PickNik and how the company is profitable without investors.

The following presentations were more technical and started with Víctor Mayoral Vilches, CEO of Acutronic Robotics. He talked about his company's solutions for system integration in modular systems, through the device H-ROS SoM (System on Module), used as example. In his opinion, ROS already addresses many programming needs, but system integration goes far beyond programming and requires extensive resources for each new project. He therefore sees modularity as an essential improvement. Combining the features of a real-time capable link layer made of RTOS and the Linux Network stack, and ROS 2.0, he presented the challenges and developed solutions to achieve easier system integration. He also gave insights into the use of AI to further reduce programming efforts and to train the robot instead, a technology that is still in its infancy. As part of a Focused Technical Project with ROSIN, the company also worked on the interoperability of modules.

Jon Tjerngren (ABB) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Jon Tjerngren (ABB) at ROS-Industrial Conference 2018

Jon Tjerngren presented how ABB robots can be used with ROS. For this purpose, the company developed various ease-of-use packages with ROS that simplify and accelerate the setup of ABB robots. All of them are already freely available online: abb_librws can be used to off-load of computational heavy tasks, e.g. image processing. abb_libegm can be used for motion correction and as an StateMachine add-in for remote control.

ROS2 Embedded tailored to real-time operating systems was the topic of Ingo Lütkebohle’s presentation from Bosch Corporate Research. He emphasized the importance that ROS must also be integrated into the firmware. This would better address four challenges: hardware access, latency, power savings, and safety. To this end, he presented a solution developed in the OFERA project with which ROS2 can be used in microcontrollers.

André Santos from INESC TEC and University of Minho, focused on software quality. More and more robot systems are safety-critical systems, which places very high demands on the quality of the software. Finding errors in the code early on reduces costs and development time. Although there are various static analysis tools, none offers ROS-specific analysis. This is why the HAROS (High Assurance ROS) framework was developed, which is capable of extracting and, to some extent, reverse-engineering the computation graph. It also provides a visualization of the extracted graph and enables property-based testing for ROS.

Anders Billise Beck (UR) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Anders Billise Beck (UR) at ROS-Inudstrial Conference 2018

Anders Billersoe Beck from Universal Robots was the last speaker in the second session. He introduced the new UR e-series (with integrated force/torque sensor, 500 Hz controller frequency and more new features) and how ROS supports it. For this, a new driver is developed in a Focused Technical Project of ROSIN together with the FZI, which will also remain open-source. The goal is to make a UR robot easy to use and enable plug-and-play with ROS. The driver should make two modes of operation possible: remote control and ROS URcap embedding. More supported features are calibration, a new safety system and easier programming. Beck concluded the presentation with some points that he believes are in need of improvement to make ROS ready for industrial applications. These are easier general use, proper handling of hard and soft real-time boundaries and supporting more control in edge devices.

New Release of ROS Qt Creator 4.8 RC on Xenial and Bionic

We are pleased to announce the release of the ROS Qt Creator Plug-in for Qt Creator 4.8 RC on Xenial and Bionic. The ROS Qt Creator Plug-in creates a centralized location for ROS tools to increase efficiency and simplify tasks.

Picture obtained from  Qt Blog

Picture obtained from Qt Blog

Highlights:

  • Qt Creator 4.8 introduces several new rich features and improvements to existing capabilities.
    • Generic Programming Language Support (Python Support!)
      • To use this feature, you must enable the Language Support Plugin
    • C++
      • Compilation Database Projects!
      • Clang Format Based Indentation!
      • Cppcheck Diagnostics!
      • Simultaneously debugging one or more executables!
  • ROS Plug-in introducint a few new features and bug fixes
    • Upgraded to Qt Creator 4.8
    • Added catkin_test_results run step
    • Added ROS Settings Page to configure default settings
    • Bug Fixes
      • Issue #284 Package Wizard caused Qt Creator to crash if using when a ROS project is not loaded.
      • Issue #289 Clicking Help caused Qt Creator to crash
qt-creator-ros-settings-page.png

A ROS-Industrial Collaboration with Microsoft and BMW

ROS-Industrial recently had the opportunity to collaborate with Microsoft, BMW and Open Robotics on an automation solution that was featured in Season 3 of the Decoded show on YouTube. This enabled the ROS-I Consortium to realize sustainable gains on the team’s vision for greater efficiency and visibility with respect to logistics and material management challenges in assembly plants.

Mobile Robot.png

BMW has set forth a vision where they break down the barriers between the historical automation paradigms and the challenges with interacting with the largely manual operations of their ever-increasing high-mix assembly operations. Historically, materials are delivered to the line for human operators to consume and exact quantities and status are lost at that point of consumption. The idea is to leverage intelligent autonomous operation to give better visibility to what is where, while leveraging cloud technologies to create a tighter loop and connection to the order delivery systems. The goal is to enable a leaner operational buffer within the workflow, reducing carried inventory and driving greater efficiency.

This is where Microsoft came into the picture, with their Azure solutions and client support team to do rapid development sprints to enable tighter coupling between their SAP work order environment to the “to-be deployed” autonomous robotic fleet.

BMW has built a home-grown start transport robot that runs on the same battery used in the i3 model car they produce. However, there needed to be coordination of these assets over the long term with a richer simulation environment as the platform’s capability increased. This is where the Microsoft team came to deliver.

Close Up.png

Originally, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) ROS-I team support was around navigation and evaluation of Gazebo in manufacturing environments supporting many mobile robots. It became clear as the Microsoft team got to work that Gazebo would not support spinning up multiple mobile robots in one instance. In fact, due to how Gazebo is structured, even a handful of robots brought Gazebo processing to a crawl. This led to the implementation of Argos, an open-source simulator that also has the capability to include physics as the scale BMW was interested in. A container strategy was developed and, in the end, the ROS-I team ended up learning quite a bit from the Microsoft team through the week-long development hack on SwRI’s campus. This development week really furthered the understanding of capability with regard to richer simulation capabilities, including the physics, which supports the ROS-I vision of tighter process performance and management of non-rigid bodies within the planning cycle.

As things got going in Germany, as the Decoded episode shows, the Microsoft team worked closely with BMW’s ROS and Manufacturing Execution System (MES) developers, tightly coupling the SAP functionality along with the fleet management and navigation tuning functionality that was required along with the Argos implementation. In the end, this led to a functional, if not sustainable, solution for the BMW team as they continued to refine the performance of the specific ROS-based robot, leveraging the Azure environment to assure SAP to simulation, to robot action within the Azure platform.

VPLogistics.png

We hope those who watch this Decoded episode agree this demonstrates that collaborations between for-profit entities such as Microsoft, and nonprofits – such as SwRI, Open Robotics and Fraunhofer IPA, as well as open-source projects such as ROS-I – can enable end-users such as BMW to create their own sustainable, high performing solutions. We believe the open-source contributions will enable others to leverage the development and hopefully expand the capability. This idea of a pre-competitive foundation that enables interoperability and flexibility without generating silos is key if we are to move the ball forward with respect to operational efficiency gains at the scale we need.

As we have seen in recent months, robotics development and IT are entering a new phase, where more teams and individuals can grasp their own destiny and ROS-Industrial is excited to be a part of that journey!

Thanks to Microsoft and BMW as well as the Decoded team for making this project possible.

ROS-Industrial Americas 2018 Annual Meeting Review

The ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas (RICA) held its 2018 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, on the campus of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) on March 7th and 8th, 2018. This was a two-day event, with the 7th open to the public, including tours and demonstrations, followed by Consortium Members meeting on the 8th with a road-mapping exercise and project idea brainstorming.

This was the first time that RICA held the event over two full days. Also, this was the most well attended event, topping out over 80 people on the 7th. There were talks spanning from the more strategic/visionary to the technical with regards to open-source robotics application development. This provides an excellent cross-section of the technical development community and organization decision makers to share ideas and cross-pollinate taking back what they learned to their organizations.

The morning of the 7th featured:

  • SwRI Introduction - Paul Evans - SwRI
  • ROS-I Consortium/Introduction - Matt Robinson - SwRI
  • Manufacturing in Mixed Reality - Dr. Aditya Das - UTARI
  • Discussion on the Design of a Multiuse Workcell and Incorporation of the Descartes Package - Christina Petlowany - UT Austin Nuclear Robotics Group
  • Integrating ROS into NASA Space Exploration Missions - Dustin Gooding - NASA

The talks touched on a mix of how humans can interact with the technological solutions and also the need for solutions that can work within environments originally designed for people. The common thread is enabling humans and robots to work more efficiently within the same spaces, and leveraging the same tools.

Rick Meyers of the ARM Institute & Air Force Research Laboratory, during the lunchtime keynote, discussed the vision and motivations of Air Force ManTech to drive advancements in automation and robotics in the manufacturing environment. This tied into the motivation of the Advanced Automation for Agile Aerospace Applications (A5) program, and how ROS ties into the realization of the Air Force ManTech vision.

The tours and demonstrations included many different applications, all with either ROS/ROS-Industrial element, though in some cases complimentary. ADLINK Neuron focused on coordinated mobile robots and a means to assist their industrial partners to easily transition to the ROS2 environment and provide consulting services for DDS implementation and ROS-related algorithm development.

KEBA demonstrated their new ROS RMI interface integrated into their controller, while UTARI demonstrated Manufacturing in Mixed Reality implemented through the Microsoft HoloLens, allowing users to fuse process guidelines, real-time inspection data, and cross reference information to determine adaptive measures and project outcomes.

SwRI and the ROS-I team demonstrated an example of merging SwRI’s Human Performance Initiative’s Markerless Motion Capture combined with path planning to retrieve an object from an open grasp. SwRI’s Applied Sensing Department showcased their Class 8 truck enabling all attendees to go for a ride, while gaining insights to the vehicle’s capabilities. The ROS-I team at SwRI also presented Robotic Blending Milestone 4, Intelligent Part Reconstruction, with TSDF implementation, and Trajopt, a newly fully-integrated into ROS sequential convex optimizer. The UT Austin Nuclear Robotics Group demonstrated their improved situational awareness for mobile manipulation on their Husky platform where users could “drive” the system to pick up a presented object.

Finally, the SwRI team presented and demonstrated the A5 platform, which is a mobile manipulation platform designed to perform numerous processes on large aircraft in an unstructured setting. The process demonstrated was sanding of a test panel overhead. Overviews of the localization and planning on the visualization were included.

Talks for the afternoon centered around OEM and Integration service providers, and included:

  • ADLINK Neuron: An industrial oriented ROS2-based platform - Hao-Chih Lin - ADLINK
  • Unique ROS Combination with Safety and PLC - Thomas Linde - KEBA
  • Leveraging ROS-Industrial to Deliver Customer Value - Joe Zoghzoghy - Bastian Solutions

This set of talks brought home innovations by the OEM and service provider communities. Bastian Solutions’ story of concept via working with the ROS-Industrial team, through pilot and into production, demonstrated a real value proposition for mobile solution, and broader ROS-enabled, development for the integrator community.

The morning of the 8th featured:

  • RIC-Americas Highlights and Upcoming Events - Matt Robinson & Levi Armstrong - SwRI
  • RIC-Europe Highlights & ROSiN Update - Mirko Bordignon - Fraunhofer IPA
  • ROS-Industrial Lessons from Bootstrapping in Asia Pacific - Min Ling Chan - ARTC
  • ROS2 is Here - Dirk Thomas - Open Robotics
  • ARM Institute Introduction & Update - Bob Grabowski - ARM Institute
  • Windows IoT & Robotics - Lou Amadio - Microsoft

Matt Robinson covered strategic initiatives for the Consortium followed by Levi Armstrong covering RICA technical developments, including TrajOpt and Intelligent Part Reconstruction, Noether, PCL Afront Mesher, and Qt Creator updates and upcoming release.

Mirko Bordignon highlighted for the Americas audience what is happening around the ROSIN initiative, driving awareness, and furthering the global nature of ROS-I. Min Ling Chan shared progress within the Asia-Pacific region and the progress and status of the Pack ML Focused Technical Project, which has a Phase 2 launch coming soon.

Dirk Thomas of Open Robotics presented the latest on ROS2, and for the first time we were happy to welcome Bob Grabowski of the ARM Institute. The ARM Institute is the newest DoD Manufacturing Innovation Institute, and this is the first Annual Meeting since the Institute’s launch. Synergies between the ARM Institute and ROS-I will be important to monitor moving forward.

The morning session concluded when the Windows IoT and Azure teams were represented respectively by Lou Amadio and Ryan Pedersen, presenting their current strategy for ROS support and their plans moving forward, particularly for ROS2.

The featured keynote was presented by Dr. Phil Freeman of Boeing, “Why Boeing is Using ROS-Industrial.” Phil offered great insights to the value of ROS-Industrial for Boeing, and what it has enabled for their operations in the context of the challenges Boeing faces. The talk featured example applications and conveyed the message that within the robotics space we truly are at a tipping point with regards to capability and accessibility.

A road-mapping session was then conducted, focusing on problems to solve. The idea is to tie problems to projects and then identify the capabilities that need to be developed to meet certain prioritized problems. The problem focus areas were Human Capability, Quality Processes and Execution, Flexibility/Agility, and Strategy/Alignment. Common themes were: standard interfaces, documentation, ROS2 for Industrial applications, ownership and community engagement, simpler recovery means, and real-time diagnostics.

The afternoon speaker session touched on technologies that seek to enable richer and more reliable networking and data sharing/management through the application development/implementation process, and across the value stream:

Now that the dust has settled, these are some observations from this seat:

  1. ROS-Industrial is a big tent, and is truly global. Each Consortium needs to optimize how it works within their region to meet their member needs and optimally leverage resources available to them.
  2. As regional resources are optimized, the other consortia need to monitor developments, share information and ensure that all within the broader ROS-I organization are aware what is in-flight, what development activities are happening where, to reduce/eliminate redundant efforts.
  3. ROS2 is here, but there is work to do. It will be important to monitor developments and foster awareness to enable developers, solution providers, and end users to leverage ROS2 capability to complement their end solutions when and where appropriate.
  4. There are a number of innovators, solution providers, and end users realizing value proposition on ROS/ROS-Industrial deployments TODAY, and in some cases for some time. Let’s socialize and share their success stories.
  5. Foster both membership engagement and community engagement in the vision and execution of the vision for ROS-Industrial. We are excited to both enable start-ups to engage, but also improve how we leverage our University partners. Through effective projects, sponsorships, or roles within the ROS-I organizational structure, these all help foster a sense of community and subsequent ownership.
  6. There is an inflection point or tipping point, and for advanced robotics this seems to be an appropriate time. The idea also, that ROS can span beyond just the robotic processes, but do more to enable more intelligent processing via leveraging IoT, enable leverage of advanced technologies for further end user value seems to be gaining steam.
  7. We advance ROS-Industrial together. Engage, participate, communicate, and we succeed together.

As always, we are looking forward to feedback on the event and how to improve this event and events moving forward. We are looking forward to bringing back the online quarterly membership meetings, so keep an eye on that, as coordination and the invites are hosted on a rotational basis by the three Consortium managers. ROS-Industrial is an open-source project, and with that we seek to be open, and a be that forum for sharing ideas, and solving problems for industry in the 21st century.

Public day presentations can be found on the Event Page within the agenda after each speaker line item. Member day presentations are included behind the member portal, and are available for download.

Thanks for your support of open-source automation for industry!

ROS-Industrial Migration to Discourse

Today, February 14th, we notified the ROS-I users Google Group, about an upcoming transition to Discourse on March 1. I have included the letter below that was provided to the Google Group members. We are excited to be part of the ecosystem over at Discourse and hope that it drives improved collaboration, synergy, and interaction with the broader ROS Community.

We look forward to this transition, but of course with any change, there can be problems. Please feel free to comment below, or reach out directly if you have questions and/or concerns.

Discourse.JPG

“In recent years there has been a migration, related to ROS/ROS-related discussions, Q&A, and collaboration to ROS Discourse (discourse.ros.org). At ROS-Industrial we see this year as the time to move over to Discourse as well, and retire the ROS-I Google Group, swri-ros-pkg-dev. This obviously does not come without some consideration and a migration plan. The target date for the transition is March 1. The content that is currently within the forum over at the Google Group will be kept available for reference, as read-only, and inquiries to swri-ros-pkg will be met with an automatic reply to direct inquiries to the ROS-Industrial Discourse category.

For users the move to Discourse should be quite convenient and efficient. Accounts from GitHub, or Google, may be used, so no new accounts will be needed in those cases.

We hope that this change is welcomed as it drives synergy with the broader ROS community, and allows for a true “one stop” in discussion and collaboration on all things ROS. To start there will be an ‘ROS-Industrial’ category, with subcategories developed when traffic merits the creation of subcategories.

We would like to thank our friends over at Open Robotics for helping us out with this change.”

Robotic Blending Milestone 4 Technology Demonstration at Wolf Robotics

The Robotic Blending project is the first open source instantiation of what will become a general Scan-N-PlanTM framework (Figure 1). The project has been making steady progress over the past two and a half years.

Figure 1. Execution of surface blending of a complex contour part on Wolf Robotics Demonstration Hardware in Fort Collins, CO.

Figure 1. Execution of surface blending of a complex contour part on Wolf Robotics Demonstration Hardware in Fort Collins, CO.

Starting in earnest at the beginning of 2017, Milestone 4 (M4) sought to further the functionality of the technology to incorporate functionality that was of interest to the participating members. These members, 3M, Caterpillar, GKN Aerospace, Wolf Robotics, and the SwRI development team set forth to realize a set of objectives:

  • Closed-loop inspection and retouch: Integrating the process planning and quality assurance steps so that parts are finished with a closed, sensor-driven loop.
  • More Robust Surface Segmentation: Improving the surface segmentation and planning algorithms to accommodate more complex surfaces found on real parts (continuous surfaces with radius of curvature above a 50 mm threshold, as seen in Figure 1 above)
  • Blending Process Refinement: Improving the quality of the blending process to produce surface finishes that meet engineering requirements.
  • Edge Processing: Processing/chamfering simple 2.5D edges that occur where two surfaces meet.
  • Technology Transfer: Meetings, demonstrations, and sponsor sites to support knowledge sharing among project participants and performers.
  • Integration and Testing: Demonstration support.

The intent of the demonstration was to review the capability as-developed relative to the processing of provided Caterpillar production parts. Performance was tracked to a provided success criteria that tied to performance metrics that were relevant to the target application.

All parts presented were able to be perceived, meshed, and discrete parts for processing selected. There were difficulties with GUI interaction relative to selection, but these were considered minor.

Paths were generated for every part presented that included blending surface paths as well as the edge paths. Every path that was generated was simulated without issue.

Execution of the blending paths was performed on 100% of presented parts, and a subset of parts for edge processing. There were observed challenges due to the scale of the tools and media relative to the edge and execution of the paths without having issues with either collision or losing contact with the part. This is simply a need for finer calibration techniques for these particular hardware configurations.

Quality assurance (QA) paths were generated and simulated in all cases. False positives were prevalent and related to scatter/reflectivity, particularly for aggressive media combined with edges/corners on the parts. This is a common issue for laser-based sensors and spectral (shiny) surfaces, particularly along edges. Root cause was identified in detailed views of the scan data showing the scatter that exceeds the acceptance criteria of 0.5 mm.

For cases where slag was present to be identified the QA algorithm identified the slag and subsequent path plans were generated, displayed, and able to be simulated and executed, see Figure 2. In cases where there was no remaining slag and the finish was not high spectral the QA passed the part.

Figure 2. Processed Part and Resultant QA that highlights non-compliant regions for re-processing

Figure 2. Processed Part and Resultant QA that highlights non-compliant regions for re-processing

Overall, the demonstration was considered a success, and follow on work is in the proposal development phase. The next steps for the team: First, consider establishing two test-sites where follow on development and testing can be performed.  Second, evaluate functionality around these elements: work flow, path planning relative to perceived and characterized anomaly or feature, human mark/indication and plan, process refinement considering PushCorp functionality and 3M media, and finally Digital Twin elements to enable consistent performance between the two sites.

Additional information and videos highlighting the current capability will be available soon!

Latest updates to the packages can be found here: https://github.com/ros-industrial-consortium

Special thanks to the Robotic Blending M4 team members:

Schoen Schuknecht – 3M

JD Haas – 3M

Leon Adcock – Caterpillar

Prem Chidambaram – Caterpillar

Wajahat Afsar - Caterpillar

Chris Allison – GKN Aerospace

Richard Cheng – GKN Aerospace

Mike McMillen – PushCorp

Jonathan Meyer – SwRI

Austin Deric - SwRI

Alex Goins - SwRI

Lance Guyman – Wolf Robotics

Jason Flamm – Wolf Robotics

Zach Bennett – Wolf Robotics

Nephan Dawson – Wolf Robotics

Recap: Successful ROS-I Consortium Americas Meeting in Chicago

On April 7, the ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas hosted its annual meeting in Chicago following on the heels of the Automate show. The meeting brought together more than 60 people from across the industrial robotics industry to learn about, discuss, and plan for the future of open source software for manufacturing automation. The Consortium is now a world-wide organization led by SwRI in the Americas, Fraunhofer IPA in Europe, and A*STAR ARTC in the Asia Pacific region.

The annual meeting demarked a number of milestones for ROS-I:

The ROS-I Consortium Americas meeting brought together representatives from across industry including end users, system integrators, robot OEMs, automation equipment OEMs, and researchers.

The ROS-I Consortium Americas meeting brought together representatives from across industry including end users, system integrators, robot OEMs, automation equipment OEMs, and researchers.

The Open Source Robotics Foundation was represented by Tully Foote who took questions during an open mic session, and also led a round table roadmapping discussion about ROS/ROS 2 core.

The Open Source Robotics Foundation was represented by Tully Foote who took questions during an open mic session, and also led a round table roadmapping discussion about ROS/ROS 2 core.

Matthew Robinson from Caterpillar gave an inspiring keynote presentation on the topic of Flexible Automation for Manufacturing in Heavy Industries.

Matthew Robinson from Caterpillar gave an inspiring keynote presentation on the topic of Flexible Automation for Manufacturing in Heavy Industries.

The ROS-I Consortium is global! Each regional program manager presented an update about the progress and future plans for his/her region. Left to right: Min Ling Chan from RIC-Asia Pacific, Dr. Mirko Bordignon from RIC-Europe, and Paul Hvass from RIC-Americas.

The ROS-I Consortium is global! Each regional program manager presented an update about the progress and future plans for his/her region. Left to right: Min Ling Chan from RIC-Asia Pacific, Dr. Mirko Bordignon from RIC-Europe, and Paul Hvass from RIC-Americas.

During the afternoon session, Consortium members organized into groups to discuss specific technical roadmapping thrusts. 

During the afternoon session, Consortium members organized into groups to discuss specific technical roadmapping thrusts. 

Meeting attendees also met with Focused Technical Project moderators to talk about one of the five new project topics that were introduced for 2017.

Meeting attendees also met with Focused Technical Project moderators to talk about one of the five new project topics that were introduced for 2017.

One of the chief benefits of the Consortium is the ability of members to sponsor Focused Technical Projects. These projects expand the capabilities of ROS-I and costs are shared by participating members so their resources are multiplied by their collaborators. This year, five project topics were announced and then discussed in a round table forum:

  • Collaborative Robotic Fastener Installation
  • Sensor Configuration and Calibration Assistant
  • MoveIt! Code Sprint
  • ROS-I Business Analytics Dashboard
  • Robotic Edge Processing

To learn more about the ROS-I Consortium, please visit the Join Now page.

ROS-I Consortium Annual Meeting to Feature Eight Noted Speakers

Meeting to be held April 7 in Chicago

  • Keynote speaker Matthew Robinson, Caterpillar
  • Brett Hemes, 3M
  • Trent Weiss, The Boeing Company
  • Dr. Steve Turek, Manufacturing USA
  • Tully Foote, OSRF
  • Min Ling Chan, ARTC
  • Mirko Bordignon, Fraunhofer IPA
  • Paul Hvass, SwRI
Click the image above to download a printable flier for the ROS-I Consortium Americas Annual Meeting.

Click the image above to download a printable flier for the ROS-I Consortium Americas Annual Meeting.

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).

ROS-Industrial Update

The ROS-Industrial team has been very busy developing new functionality that I am very excited to share with you.

ROS-Industrial Hydro Release!

We officially released a few ROS-Industrial packages about six months back, and released the final package just a couple of months ago. A brief description of the new features/updates can be found here. It's now possible to install from debians: sudo apt-get install ros-hydro-industrial-desktop. More detailed instructions can be found here. We typically lag ROS releases to ensure stability, but the switch to catkin really delayed us. It feels like we transitioned to catkin twice, first to get source builds working and then a second time to get debian builds working. Having put the port to catkin behind us, I'm confident we will do better next release.

Robot Vendor Package Support

Early ROS-Industrial development was focused on developing robot specific drivers. Some of these packages were developed from scratch, such as the Fanuc package, developed by TUDelft and others were acquired as orphaned projects. In order to ensure the continued development and maintenance of these drivers, we are reaching out to the community for help. Recently, Fraunhofer IPA has taken ownership of the Universal Robot. We appreciate the help of both TUDelft and IPA. We are actively looking for developers/maintainers for our other driver packages (if you are interested send an email to this developers list).

Google Summer of Code

We are participating in the Google Summer of Code (GSoC) under the OSRF umbrella. GSoC pays students to perform open source development. ROS-Industrial has two projects: a cartesian planner GUI plugin for MoveIt (repo) and an intuitive 3D interface for industrial painting (repo). We are very excited to be part of this awesome program and are looking forward to what our students come up with. Stay tuned for posts from our students.

Special Thanks to the Community

It's no secret that ROS-Industrial is a community effort. I'm very proud to say that ROS-Industrial receives contributions from some of the best academic, research, and commercial organizations from around the world. Our current stats have us at 24 contributors in the last year and that's not even counting those who participate in code reviews and submit issues. I can honestly say I've worked with some of the greatest developers in my career through the ROS-Industrial program.

ROS-I Training Class Curriculum Free for Public Use

The ROS-Industrial Basic Developers' Training Class curriculum was developed under funding from the ROS-Industrial Consortium to streamline the introduction of Ubuntu Linux, ROS, ROS-I, PCL, and MoveIt! to industrial automation C++ code developers who are new to ROS. The curriculum culminates with a vision-enabled pick-and-place project. The class was first developed for the ROS-Groovy version and held in June 2013. In May 2014, we updated and extended the course for ROS-Hydro.

With the approval of the ROS-I Consortium Advisory Committee, the curriculum has been made public (Creative Commons license) and linked to the ROS-I wiki. The class materials consist of presentation slides, step-by-step instructions, and source code for exercises. Each of the exercises is intended to take approximately 30 minutes to complete. The source code is now available on the ROS-I GitHub site. Links:

2nd ROS-Industrial EU Conference and RIC-EU Kick-Off

A post by Ulrich Reiser and Florian Weisshardt, Fraunhofer IPA

The ROS-I community is cordially invited to the following events:

 =============================================================
ROS-Industrial Conference and Consortium Europe kick-off
=============================================================
at Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart, Germany
 
June 26: ROS-Industrial conference (public)
June 27: ROS-Industrial Consortium Europe Kick-Off (restricted to RIC-EU members)
 
Conference Objectives
---------------------------
The objective of the ROS-Industrial conference is to bring together representatives from academia and industry to exchange experiences on application development with ROS and clarify the needs of industry with respect to ROS-Industrial. The participants have the opportunity to obtain most recent information on current activities, already achieved results and future goals of the ROS-Industrial community.
 
Conference Topics:
------------------------
– Developments, trends, technologies in the ROS-Industrial community
– Examples of successful transfer of ROS components established in research into industrial applications
– Current ROS-Industrial Projects (hosted by the ROS-Industrial Consortium)
 
Target Audience
--------------------
The conference addresses in particular system integrators that aim at providing flexible, economic and manufacturer independent automation solutions, ROS-Industrial developers in research and industry, executive personal of small and medium enterprises as well as R&D divisions of larger companies in the field of automation, logistics and production.
 
Speakers
------------
-    Urko Esnaola, Tecnalia
-    Andrija Feher, Synapticon GmbH
-    Clay Flannigan, Southwest Research Institute
-    Joshua Hampp, Fraunhofer IPA
-    Gijs van der Hoorn, TU Delft Robotics Institute
-    Berend Küpers, ALTEN Nederland
-    Fabrizio Romanelli, Comau S.p.A. Robotics
-    Dirk Thomas, Open Source Robotics Foundation
-    Elisa Tosello, University of Padova
-    Florian Weißhardt, Fraunhofer IPA
 
 
General Chair
-----------------
Martin Hägele, Fraunhofer IPA
 
Session Chair
-----------------
Ulrich Reiser, Fraunhofer IPA
 
Registration
-----------------
Register for ROS-Industrial conference until June 18, 2014:
http://ric-eu.rosindustrial.org/2nd-ros-industrial-conference/
 
Link to Consortium:
http://ric-eu.rosindustrial.org/consortium/
 
 
Looking forward to meeting you at both events!
 

 

ROS-I Training Class Photos

Spring training classes for ROS-Industrial gave participants an opportunity to learn new skills through hands-on training. The March class, “What Can I Do with ROS-I?”, was a one-day high-level overview and experience with RViz, MoveIt!, PCL, and ROS-Industrial. The “ROS-Industrial Basic Developers’ Training Class,” held May 19-20, took developers through foundational robot manipulation and perception ROS-I/C++ coding skills leading to a collision-free pick-and-place capstone project. Included in the two classes, we had participants from ABB, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, CAT, Cessna, Cox Machine, Empire Robotics, ESCO, EWI, Ford, GA Tech, GE, IDEXX, John Deere, OmniCo AGV, OSRF, Rensselaer CATS, SER, Siemens, Tempo Automation, UTARI, UT Austin NRG, Wolf Robotics, Yaskawa Motoman. Check out pictures from the classes below.

On March 5, we had a number of demonstrations and presentations, and would like to thank:

  • Mr. Chris Pennington of Olympus Controls for the UR5 robot used in the Camera-to-Robot Calibration demo
  • Mr. Jack Thompson of UT NRG for the Multiscale Teleoperation demo
  • Dr. Jake Huckaby of GA Tech Cognitive Robotics Lab for the presentations about: 
    • A Skill Abstraction Framework in Robot Manufacturing Tasks
    • OmniMapper: A Modular Multimodal Mapping Framework
  • Mr. Patrick Dingle of Empire Robotics for the VERSABALL demo
  • Ms. Katherine Scott for her blog post about the class: Industrial Grade Awesome!
March: Showing the demonstration collision-free pick and place system during a lab breakout session.

March: Showing the demonstration collision-free pick and place system during a lab breakout session.

March: A group working on 3D perception exercises, acquiring data from a Kinect, fitting and segmenting the ground plane vs an object on the ground.

March: A group working on 3D perception exercises, acquiring data from a Kinect, fitting and segmenting the ground plane vs an object on the ground.

March: A group working on manipulation exercises.

March: A group working on manipulation exercises.

March: Jack Thompson of UT Austin showing a gesture-based teleoperation HMI.

March: Jack Thompson of UT Austin showing a gesture-based teleoperation HMI.

March: Brian Gerkey from OSRF trying out the VersaBall from Empire Robotics.

March: Brian Gerkey from OSRF trying out the VersaBall from Empire Robotics.

March: We didn't get a formal group photo in March, but here you can see most of the group enjoying dinner on the San Antonio River Walk. We ended up having two class day options in March, as we exceeded the capacity of the one-day class.

March: We didn't get a formal group photo in March, but here you can see most of the group enjoying dinner on the San Antonio River Walk. We ended up having two class day options in March, as we exceeded the capacity of the one-day class.

May: Class participants working on the capstone collision-free pick-and-place demonstration in the lab.

May: Class participants working on the capstone collision-free pick-and-place demonstration in the lab.

May: Video of the capstone project.

May: Ubiquitous Group Photo from the May 2014 Training Class

May: Ubiquitous Group Photo from the May 2014 Training Class

Why Robots Don’t Kill Jobs

A guest post by Robert Atkinson, President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

With U.S. job growth still anemic, some have latched on to a compelling explanation: “the robots are taking our jobs.” According to this line of thinking, high productivity driven by increasingly powerful IT-enabled machines is the cause of U.S. labor market problems, and accelerating technological change will only make the problem worse.

These arguments are not new. Over the last century whenever unemployment has risen some have always blamed machines.  But what’s different today is how widespread this “neo-Luddite” view has become and how well-received it is.  Now it’s not just the tin-foil hat crowd that is warning that robots kill jobs; many elites now make the claim.  In perhaps the most widely cited tract making this case, MIT professors Erik Byrnsolfson and Andrew McAfee state in Race against the Machine that “it may seem paradoxical that faster progress can hurt wages and jobs for millions of people, but we argue that’s what’s been happening.”  In a New York Times op-ed entitled “Sympathy for Luddites,” Paul Krugman warns that “a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labor is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued.”  Even 60 Minutes has jumped on the bandwagon, claiming in a program entitled “Are Robots Hurting Job Growth?” that “technology…is putting new categories of jobs in the sites [sic] of automation—the 60 percent of the workforce that makes its living gathering and analyzing information.”

Indeed, this is what is most troubling. In the past, neo-Luddite anti-progress views were episodic, emerging occasionally when joblessness spiked but then receding, and they were going against the grain of the uniquely American faith in the desirability and inevitability of progress. Today that faith is waning, which points to the real threat that anti-robotism presents: the view that machines are a problem and not the solution saps the American spirit of its relentless and aggressive support for innovation and progress.

As we show in our ITIF report, “Are Robots Taking Our Jobs, or Making Them?” there’s only one flaw in this Luddite, anti-machine narrative: it is completely wrong and not supported by data, scholarly evidence or logic. These neo-Luddites make a fallacious correlation between today’s high unemployment and the cool technology they see around them (e.g., smart phones, airport kiosks, IBM’s Watson on Jeopardy). They believe that when technology allows more work to be done with fewer workers, those jobs are gone and the workers are added to the unemployment rolls.

But this is what economists call the “Lump of Labor” fallacy, the idea that there is a limited amount of work to be done and if a job is eliminated, it’s gone for good. But this is a false reading of the process of technological change because it doesn’t include second order effects whereby the savings from increased productivity are recycled into the economy in the form of higher wages, higher profits, or reduced prices to create new demand that in turn creates other jobs.

Certainly U.S. history bears out the notion that productivity growth goes hand-in-hand with growth in employment.  Indeed, America’s most productive years have been followed by our years of lowest unemployment. This correlation is shown in the 2011 McKinsey Global Institute report, “Growth and Renewal in the United States: Retooling America’s Economic Engine” which looked at annual employment and productivity change from 1929 to 2009 and found that increases in productivity are correlated with increases in subsequent employment growth.

It’s also borne out by virtually all scholarly research looking at the relationship between productivity and job growth.  Some few studies find that employment decreases in the short run in response to a productivity shock, but that jobs grow in the medium to long term.  Most studies find no negative effect on employment, and some have found a positive relationship, with increases in productivity leading to more jobs. An OECD study sums it all up: “historically, the income-generating effects of new technologies have proved more powerful than the labor-displacing effects: technological progress has been accompanied not only by higher output and productivity, but also by higher overall employment.

Even many of those who acknowledge that new jobs will be created worry that this time is different and that there will not be enough of them to replace the lost ones, even in the long run. They warn that a time will come, sooner than we think, when even new “jobs” will be better done by machines, and unemployment will skyrocket. How do we know that humans will always be better at some work—or more importantly, enough work—than machines? One reason is that our economy is complex, with a broad range of industries and occupations, some amenable at a particular time to automation, most others that are not (think physical therapy, business consulting, landscape gardening). Another is that technological change doesn’t happen overnight—and current productivity increases are actually trending down. But the main reason is that human wants are close to infinite—we need look no further than the fact that most people would love to win the Powerball lottery.  With the average U.S. household income around $50,000 a year, most Americans would have no problem spending all the money they make if their incomes increased by a factor of 5 or even 10.  And as long as that is true, those wants will require labor to fill them.

It is time to consign neo-Ludditism and its particular refrain that technology costs jobs once and for all to the dustbin of history. Robots, automation, machines, productivity: these are key enablers of human progress and absolutely no threat to overall employment. As such, economic policy should at every possible opportunity not give in to neo-Luddite exhortations, but instead put the “pedal to the metal” for higher productivity and more “robots.”