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Robotics Government Open Source

DARPA-Funded Software Could Usher In the Era of Open-Source Robotics 17

malachiorion writes "The best thing to come out of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, so far, isn't the lineup of nifty rescue bots being developed by teams around the world, or even Boston Dynamics' incredible Atlas humanoid. It's the pumped-up version of Gazebo, the free, open-source robotics simulation software whose expansion and further development is being funded by DARPA. This article has a look at how the software was used in the recent virtual leg of the competition, as well as how it could change the way robotics R&D is conducted (and create more roboticists, with its low-cost, cloud-based architecture)."
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DARPA-Funded Software Could Usher In the Era of Open-Source Robotics

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  • by intermodal ( 534361 ) on Friday June 28, 2013 @04:44PM (#44137181) Homepage Journal

    The Boeing 707 is a perfect example. The military demand for jets like the B-52 and KC-135 projects heavily influenced the iconic jetliner, and today, the 737 retains many of its design features. The 707 design is so similar to the KC-135 that upon their replacement with newer airliners, most examples were purchased by the military and used as parts for the KC-135 fleet.

    Meanwhile, the Internet exists because of DARPA, the Blue Riband is held by a ship designed specifically for conversion to a troopship, and we enjoy any number of advances in a plethora of fields as a result of the space program, originally having its roots not only in the German rockets that attacked Britain but in showing the Russians how far we could lob nuclear warheads with the exact same missile designs.

    I'm glad this time it's going open source.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because if using the internet has taught us anything it's that when Skynet becomes self aware it's going to need to share its changes with the community.

  • i for one, welcome our new opensource robotic overlords with backdoor NoStringsAttached access

  • Adult supervision (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday June 28, 2013 @05:41PM (#44137699) Homepage

    What DARPA is providing for Gazebo is adult supervision. They're paying for getting the bugs fixed. Gazebo has been around for years, and like most open-source projects with modest user bases, it sort of worked. Now it's finally getting fixed. It still only installs easily on Ubuntu 12.04, has tons of dependencies including limitations on supported graphics cards, has lots of bugs, and way too many configuration files. But it's now usable.

    The "cloud" business is merely a way to make the DARPA competition honest. For competition purposes, the simulator runs in an Amazon AWS instance controlled by DARPA, with the simulated robot controlled through an API that only provides information a real robot would provide. The robot control programs written by competitors can't see the map of the world; all it gets is simulated vision and LIDAR data. It's a lot like the server/client relationship of an MMORPG. Each user has their own server instance; the world is not, as yet, shared.

    The "cloud" is not otherwise necessary, or even desirable. For development purposes, you'd usually run the simulator and the control programs on the same machine, or at least a local machine.

    A big problem with Gazebo is that the physics engine is only game-quality. Here it matters, because foot/ground contact is what supports the simulated robot, and most game simulators don't do contacts very well. Gazebo is in the process of switching from ODE to Bullet, which should help.

    • Actually, they're currently working to incorporate Simbody [], a simulation engine designed for engineering applications. That should provide much better realism.

      • by Animats ( 122034 )

        Actually, they're currently working to incorporate Simbody, a simulation engine designed for engineering applications. That should provide much better realism.

        SimBody, like its predecessor, SD/Fast, is an excellent system for implementing Featherstone's method for articulated systems. The big market for it is protein folding, for which a rigid-body Newtonian model is apparently good enough.

        I'm looking forward to seeing how they handle collisions, contacts, and friction. That's the hard part.

  • by Anonymous Coward

  • The real time simulation of an Atlas walking robot, with its walking controller, Laser scanner and 6 cameras (2 in each hand!) is beyond the capabilities of most ordinary computers. In fact, even the AWS instances were too slow and the contest was actually held on the SoltLayer infrastructure (now IBM), using K10 Tesla gpus and dual Intel Xeon E5-2690-OctoCore [2.9GHz]. The cloud is a good place is good place for simulation, not only because you can get a hundred computers for 1 hour (instead of having to
  • Full disclosure: I'm Nate Koenig, co-founder.

    Normally I keep to side lines and let the internet buzz take care of itself. However, I was disheartened to see the most highly ranked comment be so negative about a free project designed to improve not only robotics research, but also disaster response robots.

    Animats does have one valid point. Gazebo has been buggy, in the past. It was also just a side project with one developer and no funding until a few years ago when Willow Garage brought Gazebo under it

    • Ignore the negativity, /. is just full of pessimists.

      I played around with Gazebo/ROS last year, and I really like what I saw. Unfortunately I'm involved more in the embedded and integration side, so the stuff I do doesn't have enough processing power to make use of ROS. However, using Gazebo as a modelling tool for testing different robot configurations is awesome!

VMS must die!