By Andrei Kholodnyi
A decade ago, large industrial robots dominated the robotics world. Today, we see small mobile robots everywhere: in households, hospitals, banks, restaurants, and shops. Robots have made the leap from the industrial to the consumer world and become part of everyday life, with boundless commercial possibilities. And the evolution of the Robot Operating System ––ROS––is an essential part of this success story.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at ROSCon 2019, the annual ROS developers’ conference, held this year in Macau. More than 750 people attended this year’s conference. My presentation examined the drivers, challenges, and benefits of porting ROS 2 to a real-time operating system (RTOS) like VxWorks, as well as Wind River’s initiative to enable development of embedded ROS 2 applications using VxWorks.
ROS 2 is a set of software libraries and tools that aid in building robot applications. The evolution from ROS to ROS 2 has significantly expanded the opportunities for robotic applications. The ROS 2 for VxWorks project in Wind River Labs provides custom modifications and build scripts to integrate the ROS2 framework into the latest version of VxWorks.
Until now, most of the ROS 2 applications developed by academia and start-ups have been deployed on external computers with Linux and Windows OS, remotely connected to robotic devices (for example, industrial robots) that run their own firmware. In order to be deployed inside robots, the ROS 2 stack needs to be safety certified and rely on real-time control. VxWorks provides the determinism and low latency embedded applications require. It is designed for safety-critical use cases, particularly those that require safety certification. The integration of VxWorks with ROS 2 makes it an attractive candidate as a part of complex robotics solution of mixed criticality. Our objective is to establish VxWorks as one of the official supported platforms on which ROS 2 runs.
The ROSCon audience was extremely receptive to our message, with several attendees expressing interest in testing VxWorks with ROS 2. The ROS community seems fairly evenly split between two large contingents: automotive developers and all other categories (industrial, consumer, medical). For start-ups developing applications for autonomous vehicles, ROS 2 is the obvious choice for middleware, since they are focused on embedded applications and safety and real-time control are high priorities. These are lower priorities with the non-automotive developers, who are more concerned with usability. Nonetheless, the Wind River story resonated with both groups.
As ROS 2 becomes the standard for robotic application development in 2020, we look forward to continued, productive collaboration with the ROS community. I’ll be speaking at ROS-Industrial Conference taking place Dec. 10 -12 in Stuttgart, Germany, so stay tuned for my key takeaways from the event.