May 18, 2012      

It had always been the intention of the open source movement to create an independent body that could take open source robotics and grow it. Growing it meant to push it out beyond its place of nurturing and early maturity, which was Willow Garage.

Now the intention has become reality as leading members of the global robotics community who are committed to open-source robotics have founded the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) an independent non-profit organization. The mission of OSRF is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development.


?The reality is,? reports Steve Cousins, CEO of Willow Garage, ?that the popularity of open source robotics in general, and ROS specifically, has grown beyond our wildest expectations. Willow Garage will enthusiastically support the goals of the OSRF (Open Source Robotics Foundation).? It?s adding money to its enthusiasm: Willow Garage as well as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are the Foundation?s initial funders.

Open-source heavyweights

Dr. Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage will leave the company to become the foundation?s CEO.

Joining Gerkey on the Board of Directors are Prof. Dr. Wolfram Burgard, University of Freiburg, Germany and head of the Laboratory for Autonomous Intelligent Systems (AIS); Ryan Gariepy, co-founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics a robot maker in Kitchener, Ontario; Ms. Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks. Greiner serves also as the elected President and Board Member of the Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC), a non-profit organization established to speed the creation and deployment of ground robotics technology and Sam Park, executive vice president of Yujin Robot, South Korea.

First on the OSRF agenda is ROSCon 2012, the ROS Developers Conference, proceeds from which will go to support OSRF. The inaugural ROSCon will take place immediately following ICRA 2012 (May 19th ? 20th) in St. Paul, MN.

The DARPA challenge and ROS

The Foundation?s first project will be to participate in the latest Robotics Challenge organized by DARPA, which plans to award up to $34 million to teams that can demonstrate robots with advanced disaster-response capabilities. It’s anticipated that many teams will use ROS ( Robot Operating System, a collection of open source robotics code originally developed at Willow Garage) or Gazebo (a software package used to simulate robot motion in outdoor environments) to simulate their performance before sending them into the field.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012 and offers a $2 million prize ?to whoever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today?s capabilities in support of the Department of Defense?s disaster recovery mission.?

Wade Roush commented in Xconomy that, “It?s a rite of passage in the software world: Once the community around an open-source application, operating system, or language grows large enough, the creators often set up an independent, non-profit organization to oversee future growth.

“It happened with basic Web tools like the Apache Web server back in the 1990s, and now it?s starting to happen in robotics, where researchers are working to provide a common base for faster innovation.

?The foundation hasn?t yet assumed formal control of ROS or Gazebo,? adds Roush, ? but that?s the expectation.”

Background: Board of Directors

  • Wolfram Burgard, University of Freiburg (Germany). His major research interests lie in mobile robotics, state estimation and control, as well as artificial intelligence.
  • Ryan Gariepy, the co-founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics that specializes in the design and manufacture of robust and reliable unmanned vehicle solutions for industrial R&D.
  • Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage. He?s worked on ROS since 2008, which develops and releases one of the most widely-used robot software platforms.
  • Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks.
  • Sam Park, executive vice president of Yujin Robot (Korea) where he has directed the commercialization of educational and entertainment robots, elderly service robots and home cleaning robots.

Website: OSRF

See RBR50: Willow Garage