Tune in to ROSCon 2015, Oct. 3-4

ROSCon 2015 logo

This year’s ROSCon is nearly upon us. If you haven’t yet made plans to get yourself to Hamburg, then you are out of luck as this year’s ROSCon has sold out. The good news is that we are live streaming ROSCon presentations free of charge, courtesy of Qualcomm.

Click here for the live stream beginning 9:00 a.m. CEST, 2015, 12:00 a.m. PDT or 3:00 a.m. EDT on October 3, 2015.

All sessions will also be recorded and made available for viewing in the near future. Follow @OSRFoundation for announcements about their availability.

A final thank you to Platinum Sponsors Fetch Robotics and Ubuntu; Gold Sponsors 3D Robotics, Bosch, Clearpath Robotics, GaiTech, Magazino, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Rethink Robotics, Robotis, Robotnik, ROS-Industrial, Shadow Robot Company, SICK and Synapticon; and Silver Sponsors Erle Robotics and Northwestern University, McCormick School of Engineering.

Check out the program here.

If you’re attending in-person, we look forward to seeing you soon!

Gazebo Rendering Abstraction

During his internship with OSRF, Mike Kasper developed a new ignition-robotics rendering library. The key feature of this library is that it provides an abstract render-engine interface for building and rendering scenes. This allows the library to employ multiple underlying render engines. The motivation for this work was to extend Gazebo’s rendering capabilities to provide near photo-realistic imagery for simulated camera sensors. This could then be utilized for the development and testing of perceptions algorithms.

As Gazebo currently employs the Object-Oriented Graphics Rendering Engine (OGRE), an OGRE-based implementation has been added to the ignition-rendering library. Additionally, a render-engine using NVIDIA’s OptiX ray-tracing engine has also been implemented. The current OptiX-based render-engine employs simple ray-tracing techniques, but will employ physically based path-tracing techniques in the future to generate photo-realistic imagery.

The following videos give an overview of the libraries’ current capabilities:

Source code for the ignition-rendering library is available here:

Fifty Planes in the Air Running ROS & Gazebo

The Advanced Robotic Systems Engineering Lab at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA recently flew fifty small autonomous planes together using ROS.

Each plane – a styrofoam wing with a 56” wingspan – was equipped with a Pixhawk autopilot running a modified version of the open-source Ardupilot firmware and an ODroid u3 “payload” computer running ROS Indigo. The payload used autopilot_bridge (similar to mavros) to bridge between serial communications with the autopilot and ROS messages and services. A network node bridged ROS communications with a lightweight UDP-based protocol that allowed aircraft to share their pose and status with one another and to receive commands from the ground.

Also residing on the payload was a set of controller nodes that could “drive” the plane by sending updated target latitude-longitude-altitude commands to the autopilot. Controllers were individually activated by a state machine, based on commands from the ground. The controller used during the fifty-plane flight was a follower controller. A single ground operator commanded two sets of 25 planes each to configure themselves into leader-follower formations; planes would determine a leader based on highest altitude (which was deconflicted at the start of the flight). The leader would then proceed along a predefined racetrack, and all followers, listening to the broadcast position of the leader, would track its path while remaining at their designated altitudes.

A detailed writeup of the flight test is posted at DIY Drones and more information on the research project can be found at the ARSENL website.

Gazebo gets better at flying and diving

As another result of the exciting DARPA Robotics Challenge, Gazebo has improved its capabilities in the aeronautics and hydrodynamics fields. We expect these changes to benefit the way UAVs and UUVs are simulated and we hope to contribute more novel developments in this area. OSRF has developed two new Gazebo plugins:

  • LiftDragPlugin: This plugin simulates the forces on an object immersed in a fluid and applies the forces to the object’s links directly. In particular, the phenomena of lift and drag are instrumental to underwater and aerodynamic vehicles. You can learn more about this plugin in its own tutorial.
  • BuoyancyPlugin: This plugin simulates buoyancy by generating a force opposing gravity exerted on an object immersed in a fluid. Check out this tutorial to learn more about how to use this plugin.

We have also created other resources that might be useful for your simulations:

  • Cessna C-172 model: Control surfaces fully adjustable via plugins.
  • Submarine models: A set of basic propeller-based submarines with different buoyancy properties.

In the next Gazebo release, we will also make available two different world files containing simple environments for the Cessna and submarine models.

In the videos below you can see a teaser of some of the new Gazebo capabilities. We are excited about these contributions but we are also aware of the various missing features that would make such simulations even better. We are looking forward to integrating your contributions into Gazebo in any possible way: Improve the current plugins, integrate Gazebo with other existing tools, or create awesome environments. Don’t be shy and contribute to Gazebo!


ROS & Gazebo at the DRC Finals

DRC Finals logo
OSRF has been intimately involved in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) from the beginning in June 2012, when we started getting Gazebo into shape to meet the simulation needs of DRC teams, including hosting the Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC) in June 2013. So the DRC Finals this past weekend was a special event for us, representing three years of work from our team.

We were especially excited to see widespread use of both ROS and Gazebo during the two-day competition. Walking through the team garage area during the finals, we saw many screens showing rviz and other ROS tools, and even one with a browser open to ROS Answers (some last-minute debugging, we assume).

We talked with several teams who used Gazebo in their software development and testing, including teams using robots other than the Atlas that we modeled for the VRC. In the post-DRC workshop on Sunday, both first-place Team KAIST and third-place Tartan Rescue discussed their use of Gazebo, in particular for developing solutions to fall-recovery and vehicle egress. That’s one of the reasons we work on Gazebo: to give roboticists the tools they need to safely develop robot software to handle unsafe situations, without risk to people or hardware.

Based on our observations at the competition and communications with team members, out of the 23 DRC Finals teams, we count 18 teams using ROS and 14 teams using Gazebo. We couldn’t be happier to see such impact from open source robot software!

OSRF welcomes our 2015 GSoC students


OSRF is pleased to welcome Frantisek Durovsky, Konstantinos Chatzilygeroudis, Mykola Dolhyi, Nima Shafii, Ratnesh Madaan and Steve Ataucuri, our 2015 students for the Google Summer of Code!

Frantisek is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Robotics, Technical University Kosice, Slovakia. His main focus is on industrial robotics, currently working on his thesis titled “Human-Robot collaboration in manufacturing processes”. He is also a member of SmartRoboticSystems developers group which aims to popularize ROS in the region of Czech Republic and Slovakia. This summer he will work on ROS-Profinet wrapper, in order to make world’s most advanced Industrial Ethernet available to ROS community.

Konstantinos Chatzilygeroudis recently received his Diploma from Computer Engineering and Informatics Department, University of Patras and he is a member of Robotics Group of University of Patras. In his diploma thesis “Navigation of Humanoid Robot NAO in Unknown Space” he dealt with humanoid robot kinematics, dynamics, SLAM and motion planning (bipedal locomotion). As a member of Robotics Group Konstantinos is researching path planning for mobile robots using collision aware techniques. As a GSoC 2015 intern, Konstantinos will focus on adding more features to the core library of the Ignition Robotics Transport Library.

Mykola Dolhyi is pursuing a Bachelor of Mathematics at Taras Shevchenko University. He is in constant search of new cool technologies. Mykola has studied computer vision, machine learning, heterogeneous parallel computing. He is particularly interested in cryptography, computer graphics, game development and flying drones. Mykola will be working on the camera sensor part of Gazebo, and maybe some other improvements in graphics realism and quality.

Nima Shafii is a Ph.D. candidate of informatics engineering at Porto University and a member of the Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science Laboratory (LIACC), Porto, Portugal. He is currently working on his thesis on humanoid robot locomotion and is interested in developing autonomous soccer humanoid robots. His goal is improving locomotion approaches allowed a humanoid robot to perform soccer skills faster and more robust. During the past five years, He
has actively participated in events such as RoboCup. Nima will be working on Gazebo simulator in order to adapt it to simulate RoboCup soccer environment.

Ratnesh Madaan graduated this May from Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee with a B.Tech. in Mechanical Engineering. This summer, he is working with ROS-I on combining the capabilities of Descartes and MoveIt! by developing a hybrid motion planner to handle both free space and semi-constrained trajectory segments. He is deferring his Masters program offers to gain experience in different sub-fields of robotics this year via internships or other opportunities, in order to be better prepared for the Fall 2016 cohort. In his free time, he likes to go on impromptu cycling excursions, sketch sporadically and listen (and lazily think of getting back) to music.

Steve is pursuing his studies in Electronics and Automatization at Cesca Institute. He got his B.S in Computer Science from San Pablo University in 2013. Steve has been focusing his research on Reinforcement learning to a robot soccer team. He is interested in machine learning, image processing techniques, embedded systems and drones. At OSRF, Steve will be building drivers to integrate Neuronal interfaces for ROS/Gazebo simulator.

We are excited to extend the intern family at OSRF and work with Frantisek, Konstantinos, Mykola, Nima, Ratnesh and Steve, in the coming months. We look forward to their contributions this summer!

Stop by the OSRF booth at the DRC Finals!

Join OSRF at the biggest robotics event of the year, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals! If you’re looking for some excitement on June 5 and 6, head on over to the Fairplex in Pomona, Calif. for two days of free robotics competition and demonstrations. OSRF will be at the Expo in full force with 4 interactive demos and more stickers than you have surfaces to stick them on.

The DRC Finals will be divided into two parts. The Technology Expo will offer dozens of interactive exhibits and demonstrations, and the competition Grandstands will provide an excellent view as 25 robotics organizations from around the world compete for $3.5 million in prizes.

We’ve worked on the DARPA Robotics Challenge since it kicked off in 2012. In June 2013, we helped host the DARPA Virtual Robotics Challenge which awarded 8 Boston Dynamics Atlas robots to the most successful competitors. In December 2013, we participated in the Expo at the DRC Trials in Florida. It has been thrilling to take part in such an impressive, impactful robotics program, and we can’t wait to witness the grand conclusion in just one week.

If you’re in the Pomona area next Friday and Saturday, we’d love to see you at the OSRF booth (#14). Just hang a left as you enter the Expo area, and you’ll see us a few booths down on the right side. We’ll have a handful of demos for you to check out, including simulated foosball and drone flying, a motion capture system with haptic feedback, and a bale of Turtlebots you can drive around.

For more information, check out the DRC Finals website: http://www.theroboticschallenge.org/.

Here’s a map of the Expo area:

Robotics Fast Track now accepting applications

We’re excited to announce that OSRF and BIT Systems are seeking innovative and revolutionary robotics projects for the Robotics Fast Track (RFT) effort, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The goals of Robotics Fast Track are:

  1. Enable rapid, cost-effective development of new robotics capabilities designed to respond to, and even anticipate, quickly evolving needs in space, maritime, ground, and air operations. RFT will focus on the development of groundbreaking robotic hardware and software by funding novel approaches as well as creative adaptations of existing technologies.
  2. Achieve breakthrough capabilities in less time and at a fraction of the cost typical of government-supported robotic development processes by engaging highly agile organizations and individuals who traditionally have not worked with the U.S. government.

Learn more and apply at rft.osrfoundation.org!

RSS 2015 Workshop on Robot Simulation

A workshop on Realistic, Rapid, and Repeatable Robot Simulation (R4SIM) will be held at the Robotics Science and Systems conference  in Rome, Italy.

The R4SIM workshop is motivated by the need for robotics simulators that

  1. lower the barriers to entering robotics research,
  2. provide a means to realistically and comprehensively simulate systems in conditions, or at scales, that would be unfeasible or impossible to test experimentally, and
  3. enable efficient and reliable transition to and from hardware experiments.

Check out the workshop, call for papers, and important dates at http://r4sim.com/.

And a full CFP is located here:

Robots, Women and Design: Opportunities Abound

This piece was written as a precursor to the Silicon Valley Robotics panel titled “Women in Robotics: Challenge or Opportunity?” Join us at IDEO’s San Francisco office on Wednesday, April 29 at 7 pm to hear from women in a wide range of robotics roles. Tickets can be purchased here.

Let me get the basic statistics out of the way. It is widely acknowledged and reported that women are grossly underrepresented in the STEM fields. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) reported in 2011 that women hold less than 25% of the country’s STEM jobs. Women comprise a mere 17% of Google’s technology workforce; Apple sits at 20%. There are many factors at play, from what the ESA describes as the lack of “family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields,” to gender discrimination and stereotyping, to the shortage of strong female role models.

It is the latter point that I wish to touch on first, because indeed, I found my niche in robotics due in large part to the outstanding mentor I found in Leila Takayama. I met Leila during an internship at Willow Garage, back when I was struggling to apply a psychology degree to a burgeoning interest in badass robots. I began at Willow as an operations intern. I did everything from inventory management, to lunch clean-up, to multimeter measurements on robot stress tests, to light switch labeling. As much as label making satisfies my deepest desire for order, I saw everyone around me designing and building the PR2. At that time, the PR2 was arguably the world’s most sophisticated personal robot. I wanted in on the action. That’s about as far as I got, though – a keen interest in robots – until Leila joined and introduced me to Human-Robot Interaction.

Without a doubt, it was my experience as Leila’s research assistant, her advice and encouragement, and the challenges she emboldened me to take on, that opened my eyes to how I could make a place for myself in the world of robotics. With Leila as my role model and mentor, I conducted HRI research, co-authored a paper, gradually become comfortable surrounded by a nearly all-male engineering team, and shed the sometimes crippling doubt around whether I had what it took to work in a highly technical field. Witnessing Leila successfully navigate this male-dominated industry cemented in me the confidence I needed to pursue a career in robotics, not only as a woman, but as a designer and researcher.

At Leila’s urging, I applied and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction masters program. This turned out to be the second most influential factor in getting me to where I am now, co-founder and Lead UX Designer at OSRF. I mention this because, while UX researchers and designers are now in high demand at technology companies, that path would have been unknown to me without Leila’s example.
The message here is twofold: find a mentor within robotics, as I did with Leila; and realize there can be more to a STEM career than only engineering. There is enormous opportunity for women and researchers and designers; there are countless ways for women to kick ass in the robotics field. Don’t misunderstand me: be an engineer if that’s where your passion lies, but know that there’s more to robotics than engineering.

As robots become increasingly commonplace in our everyday lives, the need for robotics designers and researchers (and engineers) is growing, opening up vast opportunities to shape how robots function and behave, and how we in turn perceive and interact with them. Just one simple example: What should happen during a robot-human encounter in a narrow hallway? Numerous social norms govern this scenario on how to negotiate passage when only humans are involved. Bringing such an encounter to a satisfactory and natural conclusion when a robot is involved requires thoroughly technical as well as social and user experience expertise. Who knows, maybe having a female perspective in this research means that robots will never be guilty of manslamming.

For robots to weave seamlessly into daily life, we must design and construct them with a keen understanding of the preference differences not just between genders, but within male and female populations as well. Robots need to appear non-threatening yet capable, be able to accommodate personal space preferences, and provide the desired amount of information with the communication style or tone most effective with its current audience. Robots designed and built exclusively by men, or exclusively by women, will fail in some regards to meet the needs of half their users. If we wish for robotic technologies to flourish, it would be foolhardy to accept the STEM fields’ gender ratio status quo.

Robotics is special among technical areas in that the breadth of required specialties is exceptionally broad. Without an understanding of technical, psychological, cognitive, and social factors robotics will stay locked in limited industrial application areas. Such a limitation would be a enormous opportunity lost.