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!

Part 1, Updates and New Strategic Initiatives for the ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas

Recently ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas Leadership, along with review, and consultation, with the global ROS-Industrial leadership, presented to the Americas Consortium Advisory Council a number of proposed changes to the agreement, this post is a summary of the most meaningful changes and initiatives.

Read More

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.


“In recent years there has been a migration, related to ROS/ROS-related discussions, Q&A, and collaboration to ROS Discourse ( 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 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).

NIST/SwRI Collaborate on Open Source Software for Robotic Assembly

Over the past 6 months, the SwRI ROS-Industrial team has been executing a Cooperative Research program with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). From a manufacturing perspective, NIST’s impact is quite diverse. It includes aspects from general process improvement to specific manufacturing processes like nano-manufacturing, and of course robotics.

A core theme of the NIST-supported ROS-Industrial program is agility. That is the ability of manufacturing systems to perform a diverse set of tasks, with the built in intelligence to re-task on the fly. Agility is the perhaps the greatest unrealized promise of robotics. With the support of NIST, it is this valuable and critical aspect of robotics that ROS-Industrial aims to enable. The research effort is broken down into several sub-tasks, outline below. The tasks vary, some with immediate impact and others with more long term goals. However, they all have the common theme of enabling robotic agility.

Robot Testing and Evaluation

Testing and evaluation (T&E) are very important for both measuring and comparing the performance of complex systems. Prior collaborative work was focused on test methods for Response Robots (think robots climbing around piles of rubble). Through these efforts a standard test-suite for response robots was developed. This test-suite demonstrably pushed the state of the art in response robots. With the goal in mind of measuring and pushing the state of the art in robotic agility, SwRI is developing test methods for evaluating robots for complex tasks, such as assembly.

Peg-in-hole assembly test fixture is used to evaluate the ability of a complete robot system to perform this operations.  Metrics including, success rates, and speed of insertion are capture in order to perform meaningful comparisons between systems.

Peg-in-hole assembly test fixture is used to evaluate the ability of a complete robot system to perform this operations.  Metrics including, success rates, and speed of insertion are capture in order to perform meaningful comparisons between systems.

Dual Arm Manipulator Development

Dual arm manipulation is an exciting area of research. Such systems mimic human operations, giving robotic systems the ability to both hold an object with one arm and perform an operation with the other. With NIST support, SwRI researchers have developed ROS-Industrial Hilgendorf support software for the robot configuration shown below. The support software was open sourced to jump start dual arm manipulation research on similar setups. The Hilgendorf system configuration can be easily assembled from off the shelf components. ROS-I researchers will utilize Hilgendorf for developing dual arm applications.

A dual arm manipulator built from two  UR5s  and two  Robotiq grippers  was built.  The system allows researchers to experiment with various assembly T&E tasks.

A dual arm manipulator built from two UR5s and two Robotiq grippers was built.  The system allows researchers to experiment with various assembly T&E tasks.

Calibration Library Improvements

The ROS-Industrial Calibration Library is a powerful tool for calibrating frame transformations between multiple robots and sensors. Improvements have been made to this library to make the data collection and calibration steps more streamlined. An additional goal of this effort was to evaluate the accuracy of a system calibrated with our library. System evaluation is a key part of the NIST mission. An example system with a network consisting of 6 cameras was calibrated with the ROS-Industrial Calibration Library using a target held by a UR10 robot. The system demonstrated pose variance for each camera better than 1/4 mm and 1/10th degree.

The observations and camera pose geometry were used to predict the localization accuracy of the camera network. 

The observations and camera pose geometry were used to predict the localization accuracy of the camera network. 

The accuracy map is a slice of the working volume 0.4 meters above the table.

The accuracy map is a slice of the working volume 0.4 meters above the table.

Ontologies for Agile Planning in Manufacturing

Past (and present) robotic automation is primarily used in high volume/low variation production applications, with the acceptations being driven by safety and environmental conditions. The obstacle that steers automation away from low volume/high variation production applications is the effort associated with teaching each part. The interest is to develop an ontology structure to represent the assembly process in a way that automated planning and assembly tasks can be executed. Current literature approaches the problem in a similar way to how a child learns to perform new task. There is a low level skill set (refer to the figure below) that needs to be taught, that then can be used to complete complicated tasks. The challenge is to formulate the skill primitives in such a way that they are robot independent and have the capability to store all information necessary for the robot to execute them efficiently. In the long term, such an ontology could enable highly dynamic and generic functionality within ROS-Industrial.

Skill primitive library

Skill primitive library

Descartes Joint Trajectory Planner for Semi-Constrained Cartesian Paths

This grant also supported development of the Descartes Path Planner. Please refer to our previous post for a description and video of Descartes.


This work was conducted under NIST contract #70NANB14H226.

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.
-    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
Register for ROS-Industrial conference until June 18, 2014:
Link to 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.”

2nd ROS-Industrial Community Forum

The 2nd ROS-Industrial Community Forum webinar was held on April 28, hosted by Alexander Bubeck of Fraunhofer IPA. The featured topic of the forum was the new ROS/ROS-I interface to Comau robot controllers. That topic was covered in two presentations, first by Fabrizio Romanelli of Comau, and then also by Elisa Tosello from the University of Padua, Intelligent Autonomous Systems Lab. 

Five-minute "Lightning Talks" were also given on various topics:

  • Industrial Calibration (Chris Lewis, SwRI)
  • A ROS Control overview and what it means for ROS-I (Adolfo Rodriguez Tsouroukdissian, PAL Robotics)
  • Overview of the European Robotics Challenge, (Ramez Awad, Faunhofer IPA)
  • Updates of recent developments on the BRIDE MDE toolchain, (Alexander Bubeck, Fraunhofer IPA)

ROS-Industrial Community Forums are open to the broad ROS-Industrial community and foster the dissemination of information about new ROS-Industrial capabilities and best practices. If you are interested in presenting at the next Forum, please contact us.

ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas Celebrates 20 Members!

It is our pleasure to announce that the ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas is officially 20 members strong!

Logos for the 20 official members of the Consortium, April 2014

Logos for the 20 official members of the Consortium, April 2014

Our brief history: The ROS-Industrial Open Source project began as the collaborative endeavor of Yaskawa Motoman Robotics, Southwest Research Institute, and Willow Garage to support the use of ROS for industrial automation. The software repository, originally hosted on Google Code, and now on GitHub, was founded by Shaun Edwards (SwRI) in January 2012. Led by SwRI, the ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas launched in March 2013. As you might have guessed from the name, there is also a ROS-I Consortium Europe, led by Fraunhofer IPA in Stutgart, Germany. The Consortium exists to support the ROS-Industrial community by providing training, technical support, and setting the roadmap for ROS-I.

The Consortium also fosters new open-source code creation to meet specific near term needs of members through Focused Technical Projects. Currently, three such projects are underway:

  • Robotic Blending, Milestone 1, championed by Spirit AeroSystems
  • CMM-Accelerated Robotic Routing, championed by Cessna Aircraft Company (Textron)
  • Minimum Cycle-Time Path Planning, championed by Idexx Laboratories

At the annual meeting last month, four new Focused Technical Projects were announced, and are available to join:

  • Heavy Helper
  • Multipass Robotic Welding
  • Robotic CNC Machining for Soft Materials (i.e., AL and CF)
  • Robotic Machine Tending

We are grateful to our members for their support and enthusiasm! If you are interested in learning more about the latest Focused Technical Projects, or about the Consortium in general, please contact us.

A Universal Pendant Could Elucidate the Interface to Industrial Robot Manipulators

A guest post by Dr. Mitch Pryor, UT Austin Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group

The ROS-Industrial Consortium Americas held its 2014 members meeting at SwRI in San Antonio, Texas on March 6th. One of the primary activities of the Consortium is to establish the technical vision and requirements for ROS-Industrial. This is done through a series of requirements gathering and analysis activities known as roadmapping. This blog provides a useful forum for sharing ideas on the proposed ROS-I roadmap and gives members a chance to succinctly present thoughts on particular topics and receive feedback from all stake holders via constructive comments. The roadmap development approach presented by Clay Flannigan (and Steve Jobs) starts with the end-user’s needs (i.e. applications). Once identified, as many were at the ROS-I spring meeting, the roadmap then pinpoints the technical gaps and puts forward an implementation plan to develop the envisioned technologies.

I want to start a discussion on what “commands” hardware must reliably execute to follow the desired trajectories and/or apply proscribed forces for a given application.  In the traditional paradigm, such commands are communicated via a teach pendant or offline programming

A teach pendant is a handheld controller that provides the primary conduit for moving the robot and recording the position locations. Traditionally, it is used to sequentially teach the EEF locations associated with a given task. This instruction method is insufficient for ROS-I to extend the advanced (i.e. advancing the autonomy or flexibility of a system) capabilities of ROS to new industrial applications. Offline programming offers more flexibility but there is no standard language or set of capabilities offered among hardware vendors. What is needed is a universal Application Program Interface (or universal API) with as much of the functionality as possible accessible via a Universal Pendant.

Traditional Dedicated Industrial Robot Teach Pendant. Source: SwRI 2011

Traditional Dedicated Industrial Robot Teach Pendant. Source: SwRI 2011

Mobile HMI: Notional Universal (i.e. interoperable) Pendant. Source  link .

Mobile HMI: Notional Universal (i.e. interoperable) Pendant. Source link.

The notion of a universal pendant is not new. Toyota developed an internal unified teach pendant in 2000. Its development did more than reduce the training time for Toyota operators, it helped Toyota define the underlying capabilities that robotic vendors must provide. The Toyota unified pendant currently does not provide access to all of the capabilities envisioned by ROS-I members. If the ROS-I Consortium was to develop a similar, but more advanced device, it would help clarify and illustrate many of the API capabilities that are needed by industry.  Its development would help clarify API ambiguities and hopefully reduce the barrier to entry to much of the API functionality in an industrial setting.

What would such a teach pendant look like? What core functionality should it have? As developers, the second question is more important to answer. It certainly must provide access to the internal state of the robot (i.e. tool location, current position, current motor currents, operational status, etc.) It should be possible to modify individual joint positions as well as command joint velocities. Many advanced technologies would require access to joint torques and/or joint currents. Another useful feature would be to directly prompt a given robotic system for its mass, inertial and/or compliance parameters that are necessary in many advanced control algorithms. Remote systems should provide battery life information which is necessary to plan extended tasks. Another interesting option would be access to any internal, extensible wiring harness . One could even envision a universal messaging service for commanding hardware via existing proprietary languages. As the ROS-I Consortium develops new capabilities, such a service may become obsolete, but the universal API should not negate existing system capabilities.

Once the API is defined, it may not be possible to expose all functionality in a traditional pendant. Innovative ideas may be necessary if the full API is to be exposed. Even then certain functionality may still require writing code. The definition and scope of such an API is not trivial.  All parties (end-users, integrators, vendors, researchers, etc.) need to assist in its creation. Once developed, hardware vendors must have the right to only partially implement the proposed functionality. But our goal must be to develop an API that enables all the technologies proposed in the roadmap and make as much of the API as possible accessible to traditional (i.e. no command line!) end-users. A universal pendant would help address this and provide a mechanism for precisely illustrating and resolving ambiguities in the proposed API.

Intermodalics Uses ROS-I for Palletizing Application

Intermodalics is currently developing a depalletizing application for a client. The goal is to move an average of 2,000 crates per hour from standard pallets to a conveyor belt. Additional challenges include: more than 10 different crate types can occur in varying colors, the crates are not necessarily empty and they are randomly stacked.

The application consists of a UR10 robot from Universal Robots, a 3D camera, an Intermodalics Intelligent Controller (IIC) and an active pallet lift. The software for the application running on the IIC extensively uses ROS and the OROCOS toolchain. OROCOS is a software framework for realtime, distributed robot and machine control which is seamlessly integrated with ROS and has both Industrial and Academic users worldwide.

For finding the crates’ position and orientation, Intermodalics developed a crate localizer that builds upon the PCL library as well as on a set of in-house developed point-cloud processing algorithms. The ROS visualization tool RViz proved absolutely invaluable during the realization of this product locator.

The use of the ROS-Industrial package for the UR robot allows both the motions and the application state machine to be simulated. This significantly facilitates the implementation of the whole application.

The integration of the UR controller and the IIC does not affect the inherent safety feature of the UR robot which makes the robot stop if it encounters excessive forces. If such a stop occurs, the application can be easily restarted by a simple human operator intervention.

Blog post provided by Bert Willaert of Intermodalics.

EWI: RIC Americas Member of the Week


EWI is a leading developer in North America of innovative technology solutions that enhance manufacturing competitiveness. Since 1984, EWI has provided engineering support, R&D, strategic services, and training to leaders in the aerospace, automotive, consumer products, electronics, medical, energy and chemical, government, and heavy manufacturing industries. As a member-based organization, EWI provides applied research, manufacturing support, and strategic services to more than 1,200 member company locations worldwide.

EWI recently announced that it will open and operate an advanced manufacturing institute in Buffalo, NY. This state-of-the-art facility will support the growth of New York’s manufacturing sector. EWI President and CEO Henry Cialone said, “This is a proven model EWI has seen work in a number of the centers and consortia which it operates as hubs for the advancement of specific technologies and industries. The institute will be designed to improve public/private collaboration, strengthen Western New York manufacturing supply chains, and make its manufacturers more competitive on a global scale.”

The advanced manufacturing institute will have world-class technical capabilities in areas including: flexible automation and controls, advanced materials, additive processes, and advanced fabrication. To help enable flexible automation, EWI is looking to utilize the Robot Operating System within many industrial robotic applications. EWI is excited to be part of the ROS-Industrial Consortium and will collaborate with members and to create vital software tools for agile manufacturing.

Yaskawa America - Motoman Robotics Division: RIC Member of the Week

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What began as a collaboration between SwRI, Willow Garage, and Yaskawa America--Motoman Robotics, grew into ROS-Industrial (ROS-I). The first industrial manipulator to run an industrial robot client was a Motoman SIA 20D with DX100 controller, which would become the architecture for the driver layer in the ROS-I socket interface for manipulation. Since that first demonstration, Yaskawa has continued to support ROS-Industrial in a number of ways:

  • Assisted in development of new Moto Plus modules for both the DX100 and FS100 controllers to enable both smooth and full speed manipulation via a socket interface:
  •  Joined the ROS-Industrial Consortium and presented “Why Industrial Robot OEMs Should Care about ROS” at our first Consortium meeting and at ROSCon 2013.

  • Supported a hardware demonstration of ROS-Industrial for a deburring application at ROSCon 2013.

This early involvement and support for ROS-I has made Motoman hardware hardware easy to integrate, and has led to a number of demonstrations using their hardware:

Teaser: Recently, Yaskawa has teamed with RIC EU leader Fraunhofer IPA to create a standard ROS-I interface for dual arm robots, based on guidance from a ROS-I Enhancement Proposal posted by SwRI. We will provide updates as they become available.


Fraunhofer IPA to host ROS-I Seminar in Germany

The open-source “Robot Operating System” (ROS) offers highly-developed robotics software components, which can be used in flexible industrial applications. In this praxis-oriented seminar you will get in touch with the basic functionalities of the ROS framework and the ROS-Industrial initiative. Participants will get an impression about the power of the system and learn how to use it in their own application.

Dynamic environments with a variety of different work pieces create a demand for highly flexible automation solutions supported by sensors and intelligent software components. A cost efficient, reusable and powerful solution is the open-source framework ROS. It offers a huge amount of intelligent algorithms, methods and integrated libraries. An advantage is that software as well as hardware components can easily be exchanged due to a network based communication layer and standardized interfaces. One example for standardization is the simple message protocol which interfaces multiple industrial robot controllers and offers a common interface on the ROS level. Another focus of ROS-Industrial is to enhance software quality through a model-driven-engineering approach and automated testing. This allows for time efficient and cost effective software development and lowers the overall development costs.

In robotics research, ROS is already a well-established standard. The next step is to bring this power to industrial applications. For this purpose, the ROS-Industrial initiative was founded. This seminar will get participants in touch with the theoretical basics of ROS and teach how to practically use it for their own industrial application.

Ros in der Industriellen Anwendung seminar will be held March 6 at Fraunhofer IPA Campus, Nobelstrasse 12, 70569 Stuttgart, Germany, in parallel to the ROS-Industrial event at SwRI. International participants can register by email at referring to eventTS_RIT_140306".

UTARI: RIC Americas Member of the Week


The University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute (UTARI) specializes in developing advanced, affordable technology to help humanity in the performance of dirty, dull, dangerous, or difficult tasks in the home, workplace, and community. Led by Lt. General Rick Lynch (U.S. Army, Ret.), UTARI’s focus on assistive technology is concentrated in the areas of Advanced Manufacturing, Biomedical Technologies, and Robotics.

UTARI researchers work to provide smarter, safer autonomous robotics to aid those with disabilities, such as the elderly or wounded warriors; enable high-efficiency, low-cost production and reduce waste and downtime in manufacturing; and promote wound prevention and healing, medical training, and faster, more accurate diagnostics through biomedical technology research and development.

UTARI is currently making extensive use of ROS across a wide variety of robotic platforms. In UTARI’s Living Laboratory, for example, they are currently using ROS on the PR2 platform in order to develop capabilities that assist people with and without disabilities in a typical home setting. In the Unmanned Systems Lab, they are currently using ROS on a variety of mobile ground and aerial platforms.   In UTARI’s Assistive Robotics Lab, they are using ROS in systems such as the Kuka Youbot and Rethink Robotic’s Baxter robot. 

UTARI was a participant in last year’s SwRI ROS-Industrial training and recently joined the ROS-I consortium. The University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute looks forward to its participation in the ROS-Industrial project.


UT Austin NRG: RIC Americas Member of the Week

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The Nuclear Robotics Group (NRG), an interdisciplinary research group associated with the Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory (NETL), is headed by Dr. Mitch Pryor at the University of Texas at Austin. NRG uses industrial automation hardware to conduct graduate-level research targeting the energy sector. Because of NRG's experience with a variety of C++ based middleware for its research in the past, it made sense to begin using and contributing to ROS-Industrial over the past year as a Consortium member.

The ROS-Industrial team at SwRI enjoyed working with NRG researcher Dr. Brian O’Neil who spent summer 2012 developing a 3D object classifier that was used for the ROS-I Automate Demo. O’Neil’s work demonstrated how quickly academic research can transition to practical use on real industrial hardware. In a period of a few months, his idea was in practice on a heterogeneous dual manipulator system that demonstrated many of the core capabilities of ROS-Industrial.

NRG has recently released a Multiscale Teleoperation Demo video (below) that shows a natural user interface used to control an industrial robot. In the video, Ph.D. candidate Jack Thompson uses hand and arm motions to set waypoints for a simulated Motoman manipulator. A PrimeSense RGB-D sensor observes Thompson’s motions, and then his ROS/PCL-based software nodes interpret the motions and convert them to tool poses. What is unique: Thompson has a separate input control that scales the system’s sensitivity to his hand/arm motions. If he wants the robot to execute a small/delicate motion or a large macro-motion he is able to do so by scaling the sensitivity accordingly, making control of the system much more efficient. Up next, Thompson will being working with NRG’s Motoman SIA5 robots.

We look forward to more exciting accomplishments and collaborations with NRG.

Fraunhofer IPA: RIC-Americas Member of the Week

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The ROS-Industrial Consortium Europe led by the Robot and Assistive Systems department at Fraunhofer IPA (IPA), which designs robot systems and automation solutions for industrial applications and the services sector, recently has made exciting strides in the robotics industry. Among their impressive feats of engineering are the Care-O-bot 3 and rob@work 3 mobile manipulators. Check out:

IPA was an early ROS adopter, using it with the platforms mentioned above, and for a number of client-funded industrial automation projects. As SwRI sought a European collaborator for ROS-Industrial, IPA was a natural fit, given its leadership both in industrial robotics R&D, and its ROS expertise. IPA has many laudable accomplishments in the ROS community:

  • In May, they hosted ROSCon 2013, which brought together the global ROS community, and was a widely heralded success.
  • They launched an Eclipse toolkit for ROS called BRIDE, which enables model-based design for ROS (signal flowgraph drag-and-drop user interface).
  • They are contributing researchers for the Factory-in-a-Day project, which will create new agile manufacturing capabilities to address high-mix low-volume workflows; these capabilities will be made public through the ROS-Industrial repository.
  • They are leading the Lean Automation (LIAA) project, which will develop human-robot co-working capabilities based on the ROS-Industrial framework.
  • They used ROS in many earlier European research projects. Some of the code has been released through public repositories (e.g. SRS, ACCOMPANY, ect.).

There are also a couple of important upcoming events that will take place at IPA in Stuttgart:

  • March 6, 2014: 2nd ROS-Industrial Training
  • June 26th, 2014: 2nd ROS-Industrial Workshop aligned with European Consortium Kickoff Meeting

For more about the ROS-Industrial Consortium-EU, check out their website.