What is ROS?
While some describe the Robot Operating System (ROS) as the “glue” that holds advanced technology together, others express it as a “toolbox” or “treasure chest” that houses a blend of state-of-the-art algorithms, software, drivers, functions and more. Either way, this free-to-use open source repository – initially developed by Stanford AI Laboratory in 2007 and supported by Open Robotics at ros.org
– is a growing collection of middleware that runs on operating systems like Linux and Java, and now Microsoft Windows®
IoT Enterprise, communicating via TCP/IP and other protocols.
Taking ROS a step further is ROS-Industrial®
(ROS-I) – an open source project specifically focused on the advanced capabilities that ROS can provide specific to industrial robots. Started as a collaborative effort between Yaskawa Motoman, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Willow Garage, ROS-I is geared toward helping robot manufacturers, component suppliers, systems integrators and robot end users focus on expanding higher functionality, rather than reinventing the wheel. Furthermore, the use of the ROS-I open source software framework, or source code, helps developers improve a myriad of complex tasks requiring a great deal of perception and intelligence, such as 2D/3D image processing or force control to drive robot path in real time verses a pre-programmed path.
The Need for ROS
While ROS is not the only software framework for robots, the compilation of feature-rich tools available is initiating a movement for its widespread adoption. Compiled of over 60 members from nearly every major industry
, the foundation of ROS-Industrial consortiums around the globe has given clout to this collaborative forward-thinking approach to ignite innovation for robotic automation. So much so, that ROS is the preferred development software framework for universities that offer advanced robotics as a degree, and is also the adopted development tool for the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute
(ARM) as well as countless advanced robotic start-up companies and robotic integrators.
Seeing a need among system integrators and end users to make adaptive functionality modifications to traditional industrial robot applications in high-volume repeatable processes, Yaskawa was one of the first robot manufacturers to support the ROS initiative in the United States, joining the ROS-Industrial Consortium (RIC) Americas
to accelerate technological advancement and developing a robust communication driver. The use of this user-friendly driver gives companies and researchers the option to create add-ons and integrate perception sensors, making the robot compatible for a variety of “unstructured environment” applications in a timely and cost-effective manner.
The Support for ROS and ROS-I
Today, all Yaskawa robots are ROS-enabled and can be modified to expand functionality for more advanced tasks, especially where manipulating, navigating and sensing are concerned. This has been especially helpful for manufacturers seeking to leverage ROS for complex issues in a high-mix, low-volume market. For this reason, many breakthrough ROS-based technologies feature Yaskawa Robots:
- Aerospace – Aircraft Sanding and Coating Removal
- eCommerce – Order Fulfillment
- Logistics – Parcel sortation
As the first major robot maker to develop and support ROS, Yaskawa provides a ROS-I driver
for its YRC1000, YRC1000micro, DX200 and DX100 robot controllers. Specific Unified Robot Description Formats (URDF) for simulating Yaskawa robot arms are also available.
The Yaskawa ROS-I driver is open source, and it is built using the powerful MotoPlus™ SDK
. MotoPlus includes a ‘C/C++’ compatible API that allows developers to create real-time applications that execute natively on the VxWorks operating system of the robot controller. This enables highly deterministic applications for force control, visual servoing and general sensor integration.
The Pros of ROS
While the scope of ROS, in general, can seem daunting or offer a bit of a learning curve to new users, the benefits are clear:
Pathway to the Future
- Flexible – ROS can serve as an informational foundation for innovative development, or it can be used as middleware to run a final product. Furthermore, robots that come integrated with ROS source code play nicely in industrial environments, offering greater application flexibility.
- Customizable – because ROS is very open, it allows users the ability to add their own creative designs – building on top of the foundation provided – before repackaging it in their own proprietary way.
- Efficient – utilizing the ROS framework allows communication between distinctly different pieces of hardware and software libraries in a timely fashion, ultimately saving on labor-intensive process programming and development costs.
- Secure – since ROS offers actual source code, the use of ROS is seen as secure, providing greater reliability for companies looking to add their own intellectual property.
- Reliable – the more ROS is used, the more the user community evolves the product towards higher reliability needed for industrial applications.
While the adoption of ROS and ROS-Industrial remains an ideal option for the development of many new technology robotic applications, products and services, Open Robotics has introduced the development of ROS 2.0. This next-generation ROS framework extends the digitalization of manufacturing environments through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Compatible with multiple platforms, ROS 2.0 is designed to support multi-robot systems, real-time control, enhanced security and more, offering a pathway to more advanced industrial solutions.
The future of advanced manufacturing will continue to include the mix of intelligent robots with dynamic trajectories, sensor fusion and other advanced features, therefore it is important to foster and implement the use of ROS.
Keith Vozel is a Software Product Manager