Is ROS ready for the industrial world?

Søren Peter Johansen

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Is ROS ready for the industrial world?

By now, many people, but mostly researchers, have heard about ROS (Robot Operating System). The knowledge is now spreading to the industrial world where it has great potential. Despite the new focus on the system, many people do not know enough about the qualities, potentials and pitfalls when using ROS in the industrial world. At a workshop hosted by Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart this October, the purpose was to identify advantages and disadvantages of using ROS in an industrial connection.

ROS is a robot operating system that is open to everyone, which means that everyone can contribute by uploading their own modules for development and programming of robots. Sharing software modules through open source is an attempt to solve the classic challenge of developing robot solutions: That every company develops their own software modules from scratch. 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 application. 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.

Great support for ROS
At the workshop hosted by Fraunhofer, the participants were a mix of businesses and research institutions, which have experience with using ROS. Team leader at Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Kurt Nielsen, participated in the workshop and gave a presentation on how a manufacturing company can choose and implement strategic automation solutions. After the workshop, Kurt Nielsen said: "Clearly, ROS is receiving great support at the moment. Among other things, it is because of the opportunities to improve efficiency by reusing existing soft- and hardware components. By using ROS, it is much faster for industrial companies to test whether a solution actually works, because of the fact that many basic components already are available".

Kurt Nielsen predicts an additional great advantage of using ROS: "The system will contribute to open up new markets for many companies because the risks have been minimized. The fact that companies don't need to start from scratch every time and instead are able to reuse existing components will result in smaller investments and a greater desire to enter new markets".

The system's challenges
Since ROS is a relatively new system, it is by no means flawless yet. And naturally, the disadvantages of using the system was also discussed at the workshop, where users of ROS could report about the challenges currently connected to the system: "Since there are many research institutions which are developing and adding components to ROS it can seem rather confusing when you have to survey the situation and figure out which systems that are ideal for your specific company. Many universities are working on comparable components and one should therefore consider who is furthest along in the development and where one can find the best quality. This can often be very time-consuming to test", says Kurt Nielsen and continues: "Normally, when an integrator delivers a system to a company and a sub-component doesn't work, the integrator can address the subcontractor that has delivered the component. But who is responsible if a sub-component from ROS causes an error in the system? You cannot demand that the university, which has developed the component, should pay for the error, and therefore it is very important to quality assure the components before use".

Workshop at DTI
Advantages and disadvantages taken into consideration, the general conclusion of the workshop was that ROS has great potential in an industrial connection. "It is a system in a rapid development and many companies can quickly fall off the wagon before they even jump on. That is why, we at DTI, will put focus on ROS in a workshop, which will be held some time during the spring. At this workshop we will examine and discuss advantages and disadvantages plus the many possibilities, but also the concerns that the industrial world might have with using ROS. Now, we are already interested in hearing from companies that have considered exploring the possibilities of ROS", says Kurt Nielsen as the final comment.

You can read about the workshop in our newsletter in the beginning of 2013.