Open Source Robotics Efforts Going On All Around the World

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 13, 2009

Can open source take the field of robotics where it's never been before? We've covered several of the efforts to do so in previous posts, including herehere, and here. There are continuing efforts going on all around the world to advance open source robot platforms--some focused on humanoid robots and some not--and here's an update on several of the notable ones.

iCub. RobotCub is a site that houses an open source software repository and many other resources that open source developers are using to advance a humanoid baby robot, dubbed iCub. The project is funded by the EU, and developers all across Europe are working on their versions of baby C3PO. According to an April statement from developers working on iCUb, "at the moment of writing eight robots have been delivered and are in use by other institutions in Europe and the total count will reach 20 at the end of 2009."

The iCub, unlike many less advanced robots, is capable of learning from experience. It looks like a metallic, 2-year old child as seen at left, and it has sensors in its hands, eyes and elsewhere that help it navigate its surroundings. The purpose of creating several versions of iCub, and tracking the development efforts, is to gain better understanding of how robot and human cognition work. The project leaders are expected to deliver a complete report on their findings next year.

FIRST Robotics Competition. The First Robotics Competition is an annual event that challenges students to develop open source robotics software and components, with prizes for the winners. According to project organizers: "The FRC staff is busy preparing for the 2010 season. We're upgrading the 2009 Driver Station, introducing Java as an additional programming language option, and exploring new options for the 2010 Kit of Parts." Noted inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen is involved with the project, and it might be fun and educational for a young person to get involved with.

RoboCar. ZMP, a Tokyo-based company is working on a Linux-based automotive robotics platform that it says "provides the required tools to study various subjects such as applied robotic technology, autonomous movement, communication between vehicles or interaction between cars and humans." The model shown at left is built at 1/10th scale, and is intended for researchers to study in preparation for experiments with car robotics.

Willow Garage. Willow Garage is an open source robotics project that originated at Stanford University. Robots being developed with the project run ROS (Robot Operating System) software. The operating system comes complete with tutorials, a developer's guide, and more--all at the link just provided.

PR2 is the mobile hardware design for Willow Garage robots, featuring stereo and laser sensors. Senior citizens are a big part of the target audience that Willow Garage is aiming for. "All industrialized countries are facing aging populations that require assistance and care to remain independent into old age. By 2020 close to 20 percent of the US population will be over 65," the project leaders say. "These numbers are even higher in Western European and Asian countries." You can watch a number of videos of Willow Garage robots performing tasks, such as retrieving beer, here.