SwRI Leads Open Source Consortium for Robot Makers

Editor’s Note: Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio is a nonprofit research and engineering organization with more than 3,000 employees and revenue of $581 million last year. It’s one of the gems of San Antonio’s technology community. You can read more about the organization here. They do work for companies and government agencies and they have more than 4,000 projects open at any time.

By Michael Girdley
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News

Southwest Research Institute’s Robotic Operating System – Industrial, known as ROS-I by Michael Girdley

The software systems that control big industrial robots on manufacturing lines have long been closed, proprietary and often written from scratch.
A new initiative from Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) Robotics and Automation engineering group called “Robot Operating System – Industrial or ROS-I” aims to change that: SwRI recently announced the formation of a consortium of robot manufacturers, integrators and others interested in cooperating on ROS-I.

ROS-I is based on the Robot Operating System led by Willow Garage in Menlo Park, CA. ROS was introduced about 5 years ago and has since spread like wildfire through the research community.
In cooperation with Motoman of Japan, a manufacturer of industrial robots, SwRI Senior Research Engineer Shaun Edwards spent a year at Willow Garage learning ROS and developing the basis for ROS-I for industrial application.
While the controllers running the proprietary software that come with the industrial robots from vendors like Motoman or Panasonic do a great job with basic tasks like moving to fixed points or applying a weld, they are lacking in the more complex problem solving that ROS does well. ROS-I leverages those strengths to excel at the hard problems involved in operating a robot like path planning or image recognition. For example, most efficient path planning is a difficult problem when you’re dealing with three dimensional spaces, confined operating spaces and a robot with six or seven degrees of movement.
The hope from SwRI is for a win for all the parties involved in the consortium. For robot manufacturers and consulting companies, they can see new applications of their product. For example, the first initiative from SwRI is around bin-picking, where a robot has a mixed set of objects to choose from and visually picks the one needed.
The open source robotics consortium effort is currently taking applications and hopes to have its first meeting early next year. For more information, please visit the SWRI site.

About Michael Girdley: He’s an entrepreneur, budding technology investor, reformed programmer and author, part-time Crossfit instructor and writer living in Southtown San Antonio. He can be reached at Michael@girdley.com and his personal website is Girdley.com.

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