Everyone has heard of Android OS. And, there is a good reason why — it leveled the playing field in terms of what operating system new phones should use. In the turbulent new emerging market of smartphones, Android wanted to be independent of phones’ vendors and become a platform to build apps on. And it succeeded in it. Today, it is one of the most powerful mobile operating systems driven by what can only be described as polished, feature-packed, and technologically potent software.
Now, let us introduce you to another powerhouse — Robotics Operating System, ROS for short.
It is a flexible framework for writing robot software — a collection of libraries, tools, and conventions that aim to help you simplify the creation of complex robot behavior across a wide range of robot platforms without knowing how certain hardware works. Its ultimate goal is to create a robotics standard that will help robots and their makers, so they don’t need to reinvent the wheel anymore when building new robotic software.
The bottom line is that ROS wanted to become in the robotics world what Android did in the smartphone space — an open-source project that wants to help robots and their makers.
But there is a difference — robotics is a far greater space than the smartphone/tablet industry. Robots come in all shapes and sizes. From giant behemoths that power the modern industry and swarms of drones, through self-driving cars, automated submarines, automated warehouses, to humanoid robots, students’ projects glued together from spare parts, outdoor robots, and even robots on other planets.
To help you get a clearer picture, let’s put it this way:
If your phone stopped working for 30 sec, it wouldn’t hurt you, and maybe you wouldn’t even notice it, right?
But what happens with robots?
If robots fail to detect and react on time, damage can be immeasurable and could cost lives!
So the stage is set, stacks are high, and this ROS is a powerful engine that can solve it all. To help you get an idea of how powerful it is, let’s compare ROS’s wish list from a few years ago with what ROS stands for today:
ROS wanted to:
- Become hardware-independent — ROS needs to use all kinds of motors, sensors, cameras, etc.
- Become vendor-independent — ROS should not care if you have got Universal Robot, KUKA, Denso, FANUC, or any other commercially available industry manipulator
- Be written by any programming language – ROS has no boundaries
- Become easy to use, learn and upgrade — You don’t need Ph.D. in Robotics to use ROS
- Support large types of robots — Land, air, sea, underground, indoors, and outdoors
- Solve common problems in robotics — ROS needs to support computer vision, trajectory calculation, SLAM, motor control, safety, etc.
And where does ROS actually stand compared to this big wish list?
Pretty good. In its 13 years of existence, it has successfully done more than all other attempts to encompass robotics as a whole. Even though it is named Operative System, it is considered a framework that roboticists can use to build the future.
Currently, ROS is:
- Hardware independent — ROS can use the majority of motors, sensors, cameras (many vendors provide ROS drivers for their devices)
- Vendor independent — ROS can be used to drive commercial industrial manipulators and robot arms. ROS – Industrial is trying hard to do this, but it trespasses into other companies’ revenue streams
- Written by any programming language — ROS programs can be written with C, C++, Python, Matlab, Java. C++ and Python are the main choices
- Easy to use, learn and upgrade — Learning support is getting better and better
- Support large types of robots — See the list and judge
- Solves common problems in robotics — The 2000+ software libraries available for ROS speak for themselves
Is ROS the Future?
The market for collaborative and industrial robots is expanding exponentially, and the ROS market is quickly following suit. It is closely tied to the growth of robotics overall, as it is a critical part of automation.
The impact of robotics is vast globally, with industrial manufacturing being on the top of the list. Many factors drive high demand for industrial robots, from workplace safety and technological innovation like big data to machine learning and artificial intelligence. And they only bring value if supported by ROS. Based on an exclusive report by MarketsandMarkets, the Robot Operating System will be worth $467 million by 2024.
The ROS equation is solving plumbing, tools, capabilities and supporting an ever-growing ecosystem. Instead of writing everything from scratch and reinventing the wheel, ROS is the building block that brings robotics to new heights allowing businesses to focus only on the problem at hand.
So, what will the future bring? Who knows, but one thing is sure. ROS will continue to grow and power the robots of the bright
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