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Robot OS to support Linux and Android on Snapdragon

Sep 12, 2014 — by Eric Brown — 4,636 views

The OSRF plans to add ARM support to the Robot Operating System (ROS), starting with the Snapdragon 600 running Linux in Q4, followed by Android in 2015.

The Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), which maintains the open source Robot Operating System (ROS) and oversees the website, has announced the first formal support for an ARM target. The organization will add support for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 600, a smartphone-oriented, quad-core, Cortex-A15-like system-on-chip running up to 1.7GHz, also referred to as the APQ8064 and S4 Pro.

Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

The Linux version of ROS for Snapdragon 600 will be available the fourth quarter, while the Android version is due in the first half of 2015. The OSRF will test, refine, and fully integrate support for the ARM instruction set architecture into ROS development efforts. OSRF will also perform ongoing maintenance to support ROS on the Snapdragon 600.

ROS- and Linux-based Kuka YouBot
(click image to enlarge)

ROS has run primarily on microcontroller-based bots. However, it is increasingly used in conjunction with Linux on more advanced robot targets, almost exclusively using x86 processors. For example, ROS is paired with Linux on the Intel Atom processor used on the Kuka YouBot, and on the Intel Core processor used on the Unbounded Robotics UBR-1.

(click to enlarge)

According to the OSRF, the port to an ARM SoC is intended to enable robots that are smaller, more efficient, and have a longer battery life. The latter is a particular challenge with robots, which need more power than smartphones and tablets in order to run motors and other gear.

The Snapdragon version will be the first officially supported ARM target for ROS. The site lists several experimental ROS Hydro for Ubuntu builds for open source ARM SBCs like the BeagleBoard, Radxa Rock, Udoo, Odroid, FXI Cotton Candy, and Parallella. There has also been work on ROS support for the Raspberry Pi using Raspbian Linux on the ARM11-based SBC. This is also experimental, and the installation process is said to be “very long process.”

About ROS

Developed in large part by now defunct Willow Garage, ROS was designed for collaborative, open source robotics development. ROS is a collection of tools and libraries that simplify the task of creating and programming robotic platforms and applications. ROS is not a real-time OS, but it can be integrated with RTOSes, as well as Linux. As of earlier this year, Android support was added.

The default install for ROS is Ubuntu Linux. Core ROS components include message passing, message recording and playback, remote procedure calls, and a distributed parameter system. In addition to these core middleware components, ROS offers more robotics-specific features like a Unified Robot Description Format (URDF), a remote geometry library, preemptable remote procedure calls, and diagnostics. It also offers ready-built packages for common robotics problems like mobile navigation, pose estimation, and building a map and having the robot self-localize on it.

Rviz visualization software in ROS

ROS supports command-line tools, as well as providing a “rviz” 3D visualization environment (see image above). There’s also a Qt-based “rqt” framework for developing graphical interfaces.

NASA’s R2 humanoid robot running ROS on ISS

On Sept. 7, the OSRF announced that NASA’s Robonaut 2 (R2) humanoid robot was finally fully operational as of last month at the International Space Station (ISS), running ROS and Ubuntu Linux. In March we reported that the R2 would receive a set of robotic legs, after its torso had been initially tested at the station the year before. According to the OSRF, the R2 recently received an overhaul to replace old electronics.

NASA’s R2 robot
(click image to enlarge)

“As adoption of ROS continues to increase, our developer community wants to incorporate the latest computing platforms,” stated Brian Gerkey, CEO of OSRF. “Given the intersection between robotics and mobile and embedded systems, we believe that offering Snapdragon’s SoC capabilities to our users will be a big hit.”

“Qualcomm Technologies is proud to join OSRF and the ROS community to create an official, supported release for Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processors,” stated Matt Grob, executive vice president and CTO, Qualcomm.

Further information

ROS for the Snapdragon 600 will be available for Linux in Q4 2014 and on Android in the first half of 2015. More information should eventually appear on the OSRF and websites. The announcement was made at ROSCon 2014, being held Sept.-12-13 at Palmer House in Chicago.

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