New possibilities in the industrial world with Robot CoWorkers and ROS

Søren Peter Johansen

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New possibilities in the industrial world with Robot CoWorkers and ROS

Danish Technological Institute hosted a seminar on 9 July with the purpose of exchanging knowledge concerning the use of ROS in an industrial context. ROS is an abbreviation for Robot Operating System and the development of the system is run by the American company Willow Garage.

ROS in a robot operating system run by Willow Garage and it is open to everyone, which means that everyone can contribute by uploading their own modules for development and programming of robots. Sharing knowledge about robot development and programming is an attempt to solve the classic challenge of developing robots: That every company develops their own robot operating systems. This means that every company needs to start off by developing all basic components and only thereafter move on to focus on the components which are specific for the actual robot and application. ROS is an operating system that everyone can use, and the system has the basic functions a robot operating system should have. By using the basic components through ROS, the developers can focus on developing new components and thereby create robots with more complex functions from fewer resources.

ROS was originally developed and used by universities, but the system is now so popular that many robot innovators have embraced it, and there is a good reason for this. ROS has a huge potential in the industrial world.

"In the world of universities, there is great focus on exploration of new areas. In the industrial context, there is obviously also a need for innovation, but factors like stability, robustness and efficiency are highly prioritized. That is why we at DTI monitor the development of ROS with great interest. Especially the use of ROS in the industrial context," says robot consultant Anders Due Schwartz.

The use of ROS in an industrial context was the theme of the seminar hosted by DTI, where Morten Kjærgaard, industrial PhD student from Prevas, was invited to give a presentation on the theme. In connection to his PhD, Morten Kjærgaard has been working with Willow Garage for six months. Due to this cooperation Morten Kjærgaard has acquired great knowledge of ROS and especially the optimization of ROS in relation to the use of ROS in an industrial context.

"At Prevas we have chosen to use ROS for our future robot products because we have seen great progress in the university setting. We have experience with development of robust software products for use in the industry. Therefore, we are working with Willow Garage on adjusting ROS to run more efficiently on embedded systems and live up to the industrial demands for products.

 Anders Due Schwartz agrees with Morten Kjærgaard's estimate and elaborates: "Based on the growing prospect in university settings, which means that more and more robot innovators increase focus on ROS, we also expect that the natural development will turn towards an industrial direction. To meet the industrial demands, the next step will be to further develop ROS. The increased focus from companies like Prevas will help speed up this further development". 

DTI chooses to focus on the industrial development of ROS with a specific product in mind: The DTI Robot Co-worker for Assembly. The term describes a robot assistant and is a robot model which is easy to move, configure and train by people without thorough knowledge of robots. As it appears from the name, this robot will work side by side with humans. For the robot to work efficiently with humans and solve complex tasks it must contain advanced functions. When DTI is using ROS as operating system in the Robot Co-Worker it releases more resources to work on innovative functions within the product.

Huge future potential
The general consensus at the seminar was that ROS already has obtained great success and that the system will have a huge future potential in the industrial world. However, Anders Due Schwartz is aware of the fact that it will take some time before ROS is fully developed to meet the industrial needs, consisting of e.g. stability, robustness and efficiency.

Anders Due Schwartz and DTI have already increased focus on several scenarios where ROS can enter: "The focus of ROS is how robots are developed and filled with functionalities, but the operating system does not solve the challenge of administrating several robots in a network, which will be necessary when Danish productions areas are filled with robot co-workers. To control and use the robots in order to make the production more efficient, a platform like UNR-PF may come into play". The platform, which administrates robots according to their capabilities, acquired experiences and whether or not they are available when they are needed, can manage robots in an entire city, but it can also be used in a factory with a number of co-workers.