Morgan Quigley is first author of the authoritative 2009 workshop paper on the Robot Operating System. He’s been Chief Architect at OSRF since 2012, and in 2013, MIT Tech Review awarded Quigley a prestigious TR35 award. In addition to software development, Quigley knows a thing or two about hardware: he helped Sandia National Labs design high-efficiency bipeds for DARPA, and he also gave Sandia a hand with the development of their sensor-rich, high-DOF robotic hand.
Quigley’s ROSCon talk is focused on small (but not tiny) microcontrollers: 32-bit MCUs running at a few hundred megahertz or so, with USB and Ethernet connections. While these types of processors can’t power smartphones or run Linux, they are found in many popular embedded systems, such as the Pixhawk PX4 autopilot. Microcontrollers like these would be much easier to integrate if they all operated under a standardized communication protocol, but there are enough inconvenient hoops that have to be jumped through to run ROS on them that it’s usually not worth the hassle.
ROS 2, which doesn’t rely on a master node and has native UDP message passing, promises to work much better than ROS on distributed embedded systems. To make ROS 2 fit on a small microcontroller, Quigley demonstrates a few applications of FreeRTPS, a portable, embedded-friendly implementation of the network protocol underlying ROS 2.
After showing the impressive results of some torture tests on a Discovery board, Quigley talks about what’s coming next, including a focus on even smaller microcontrollers (like Arduino boards that communicate over USB rather than Ethernet). Eventually, Quigley suggests that ROS 2 will be small and light enough to run on the microcontrollers inside sensors and actuators themselves, simplifying real-time control.
Next up: Ruffin White of Institute for Robotics & Intelligent Machines at Georgia Tech
Check out last week’s post: Roman Bapst of ETH Zurich and PX4