Every year, we’re impressed and humbled by the enthusiastic support we get from the ROS community. This year was certainly no exception. After ROSCon 2015 sold out weeks in advance, we knew we had to find an even larger venue for this year’s conference in Korea. The Conrad Hotel in Seoul turned out to be not quite big enough, however, as ROSCon 2016 sold out anyway. We hosted more than 450 attendees (a 20% increase over last year), 44% of whom came from the Asia Pacific region. Visitors from China now make up the second-largest group accessing the ROS wiki, and five out of the top eight countries using the wiki are in Asia Pacific as well. This level of engagement is one of the reasons we decided to host ROSCon in Korea in the first place, and Asia as a whole is a big part of why ROS package downloads are up by 150% over the last year.
Statistics like these only tell part of the story. What’s more significant for us is how ROS is changing from a way to make robotics research simpler and more collaborative to a foundation that encourages and facilitates a rapidly-maturing robotics industry. Nearly two thirds of ROSCon 2016 participants were from industry (as opposed to academia), and the selection of talks included topics such as calibration, testing, deployment, security, and support of ROS-based robots in operational environments. One highlight was the introduction of H-ROS (Hardware Robot Operating System), which leverages ROS 2 to make hardware from different manufacturers interoperable with a minimum amount of hassle.
Another trend we noticed this year was a substantial and wide-ranging effort at making ROS simpler and more accessible to new users. We had presentations on Gazebo usability upgrades, drones optimized for ROS development, and a new ROS package that lets you visually program robots by moving around graphical blocks. Intel showed up with an all-in-one robotics perception device called Euclid, which is an integrated 3D sensing and computing platform (based on a RealSense camera and Atom processor) that makes sophisticated computer vision easy and affordable. Also introduced at ROSCon 2016 was the Turtlebot 3, a collaboration between OSRF and ROBOTIS, which shrinks the Turtlebot research and education platform down to something backpack-sized while making it more customizable and much more affordable.
We’d also like to highlight a new diversity program that we began this year; one designed to help enable participation in ROSCon by those typically underrepresented in the tech community. We set aside a full 10% of the ROSCon 2016 conference budget to help sixteen roboticists who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make it to Seoul for the conference. To get a sense of the impact that the diversity program had this year, we’d encourage you to watch this lightning talk from Ahmed Abdalla and Husam Salih, two students at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, who are starting a robotics lab from scratch under severe government sanctions.
Thanks to our fantastic organizing team, all of the ROSCon videos and presentations are already available. You can find them on the ROSCon 2016 website here. We’re already looking forward to ROSCon 2017.