In 2012, the sales of industrial robots in North America were strong, but the diversity of robot tasking remained stagnant. For more than 30 years, robots have been used for roughly the same set of tasks: welding (46 percent), material handling (44 percent), and dispensing (5 percent) because robots are most cost-effective for repetitive and high volume tasks, such as those found in the automotive industry. ROS Industrial is part of the solution.
Yet over the same 30 years, governments and research institutions have spent more than $1 billion on robotics research to enhance robot behaviors, such as acting on complex perception data, moving about on mobile platforms and collaborating with humans. We believe this research is languishing in the lab because software tools used by researchers are incompatible with the proprietary architecture of current industrial robots.
The solution is ROS-Industrial, an open-source software framework for next-generation manufacturing automation. ROS-I bridges the gap between the Robot Operating System (ROS), a widely used robotics research tool, and proprietary industrial robot controllers.
ROS-I is revolutionizing how industrial automation software is developed, deployed and maintained in the following ways:
- Making advanced capabilities like collision avoidance, mobile manipulation, 3-D perception-enabled path planning, and grasp planning available to industrial robot users and OEMs.
- Crowd-sourcing code development, making new capabilities affordable (e.g. Linux).
- Providing a conduit to transition basic research (748 publications cite a seminal ROS paper since 2009) to real-world industrial applications, using a common architecture.
- Stimulating the development of hardware-agnostic software using standard interfaces.
- Engaging a worldwide community of industrial automation end users, integrators and researchers through the ROS-I repository, wiki site, and consortium.
Background on ROS Industrial
Realizing the potential of ROS for industrial applications, Southwest Research Institute teamed with Willow Garage and Motoman Robotics, sending a visiting researcher to pursue an industrial automation application at Willow Garage.
SwRI’s goal was to use the advanced capabilities that Willow Garage had developed for its PR2 service, robot capabilities such as 3-D object recognition, collision-free path planning and grasp planning, and apply them to a modern industrial manipulator.
The outcome was ROS-I, a software architecture based on ROS, controlling an industrial manipulator. Once the ROS-I framework was in place, the extensive ROS community was opened up to industrial robot hardware. Using this common architecture, the next robot took only days to integrate.
Based on this success and spurred by interest from the industrial robotics community, SwRI launched the ROS-I open-source repository. ROS-Industrial now includes support for ABB, Adept, Fanuc, Yaskawa Motoman, and Universal Robots. Drivers for Comau, Kuka, and Staubli are currently in development.
ROS-Industrial is gaining acceptance and is ushering in a new growth cycle for manufacturing automation. The community of ROS-I developers includes notables like CNRC, Fraunhofer IPA, Georgia Tech, SwRI, TU Delft, UT Austin NRG, Yaskawa, and Willow Garage expatriates.
ROS-I users/evaluators include ABB, BMW, Boeing, Caterpillar, HDT Robotics, NIST, and Spirit AeroSystems.
Check out the ROS-I 1-year montage video demonstrating a wide variety of applications for ROS-I:
Visit the ROS Industrial site for more information.