We told you a bit about the Robot Operating System (or ROS) before when it was helping a 'bot from Willow Garage find power outlets and — after the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Pasedena, California last month — it looks like support for the idea of an ROS is really gathering steam.
The trouble right now is that all 'bots are more or less unique. Each one is programmed and built from the ground up, with a body and mind that work harmoniously together. This is (as you'd expect from us humans) inefficient, as a lot of robots perform similar functions and could benefit from similar programming.
What a Robot Operating System would do is create a space where programmers could code functions for robots even without knowing much about the robot itself. Programming could then be adapted and tailored to each 'bot, cutting out a lot of the legwork. At the same time, robots could be built around the ROS, giving the field a bit more structure and allowing it to move forward faster, as well as giving robots a standard architecture that will allow them to interact with one another more easily.
A lot of robot builders, such as Chad Jenkins in his talk with New Scientist, see this as a similar approach toward what helped personal computers boom:
"Robotics is at the stage where personal computing was about 30 years ago," says Chad Jenkins of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Like the home-brew computers of the late 70s and early 80s, robots used for research today often have a unique operating system (OS). "But at some point we have to come together to use the same resources," says Jenkins.
It's the hope of robotics researchers and enthusiasts backing the platform that the ROS will not only advance the way we build 'bots, but bring us closer to the dream of robots that could interact with humans in a meaningful and useful way.
Check out a video on the Robot Operating System below.