The State of Robotics – January 2020

Rhys Davies

on February 7, 2020

Tags: robotics, ROS, ROS2,

The first month of 2020 is over and lots is already happening. Everyone seems to have come back from the holidays refreshed and ready to go. Here lies the Ubuntu robotics team’s highlights from January. Including Adam Savage, our own security tools and lots and lots of robots. As ever, if you want us to talk about a project you’re working on, just send a brief summary to robotics.community@canonical.com and let’s talk. For now, though, read on. 

ROS – “The hottest thing in robotics”

Last month the TechRepublic came out with an article dubbing ROS the “hottest thing in robotics […] you’ve never heard of.” This feels like an excellent step in the right direction, moving beyond academics and into the mainstream. Of course, if you’re reading this it’s likely you have heard of ROS before, and given the size of the community, we hardly agree with the “you’ve never heard of” part. But more exposure, more adoption, more contributions to ROS, is only going to be a good thing.

The article also links to another entitled “The 8 Coolest Robots Spotted at CES 2020.” CES, the consumer electronics show, is an annual show for consumer technologies in Las Vegas. It’s a chance for innovators and new technologies to take the stage and prove themselves in the industry. Typically it’s very saturated with lots of new technologies and it’s hard to make a mark, but it’s good to see publicity around consumer robotics coming out. One in particular that caught my attention was MarsCat. A bionic cat, home robot. As of publishing this blog the folks behind MarsCat still have time on their Kickstarter too, in case you’re the backing type. 

MarsCat

Help shape the future of documentation for the Robot Operating System (ROS)

ROS is a large and complex system, but ROS 1 has an amazing set of tutorials that really helps onboard a newcomer. ROS 2 isn’t quite at the same level, but it’s work in progress. In the interest of creating better, more relevant content, Open Robotics is trying to develop a set of user personas. They need your help in order to do this, and they’ve put together a survey to make it easy.

ROS2 delivering deliveries

Robotis released a ROS-2 based delivery robot.  The ministry of trade in South Korea approved six types of new technologies to benefit new regulatory service operations. One of which was the autonomous Robotis delivery robot. They will soon be operational on the streets, delivering alongside pedestrians. The government in South Korea is trying something here and we hope it goes well. For safety sake, they are limited to a maximum speed of 1.5km/h and they are no taller than a meter and a half, but this looks like another good step in the right direction for ROS and for human-robot interaction.

It is worth noting too that these robots are similar to ones a lot closer to home (for most of us). Robots that seem to be based on ROS from Starship Robot already operated in a few college campuses in the US. Including Pitt, near where a member of the Ubuntu Robotics team operates.

[Photo by Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy]

AutoCove

As part of our on-going ROS security commitment at Canonical, we regularly perform static code analysis on ROS packages looking for security flaws. We have standardised our process on a popular tool called Coverity. While Coverity does a good job at static analysis, running the tool gets a bit repetitive if you have a large number of projects and packages to scan

To ease that burden, we have created AutoCove, a distributed, multi-threaded Coverity Automaton tool. It does not replace Coverity; rather it uses Coverity to provide a more automated approach to code scanning. Albeit a Coverity license is still required, AutoCove is entirely open source and can be downloaded at

https://github.com/ubuntu-robotics/AutoCove

We are on the very first release of AutoCove, and there are plenty of features to be added, but it already performs a list of useful actions:

1. It can run multiple threads per host in parallel to scan code

2. It can run scans on multiple hosts in parallel

3. It pulls git repositories locally and enumerates modules to scan

4. It distributes the code to remote workers

5. It builds and scans the code on remote workers

6. Creates Trello cards for the individual module it scanned

7. It adds comments to Trello cards with summaries

8. It appends logs to Trello cards if it found something

9. It creates projects on Coverity server (search for projects starting with ac-)

10. It creates streams on Coverity server under the project (search for streams starting with ac-)

Adam Savage tests Boston Dynamics’ robots!

In January, Spot, Boston Dynamics’ robot dog was handed over to Savage and co for testing. He is now part of Boston Dynamics’ plan to turn the “quadruped robotic platform” into a “flexible tool for robotic developers.” The Savage’s video sees the unboxing of Spot and his first outing into the real world. According to a recent Boston Dynamics blog post, they are fostering a community of developers to work on their next-generation technology by open-sourcing their SDK and holding community events to bring developers together.

Adam Savage’s Tested

ROS Robotics at SRU

Last month the robotics team’s own Sid Faber headed out to Slippery Rock University (SRU) in Pittsburgh to teach robotics. The class was on robotics with ROS, on Ubuntu. Sid went through the basics of getting started with ROS on a Raspberry Pi, following the first how-to videos by our own Kyle Fazzari. You can, read all about it in Sid’s latest blog where he talks you through how it all went.   

Robots in Walmart

Bossa Nova robots will be in 1,000 Walmart stores this year, and not on the shelves. Bossa Nova, the San Francisco-based technology company, makes autonomous robots to scan products and alert employees of anything from low inventory to mispriced items. Partnering with Walmart they’re rolling out a thousand robots to local stores. We have a sneaking suspicion that some of their stack uses ROS, and we’re starting to see more of these robots popping up all over.

Outro

All in all, January was busy. Lots going on, lots of robots making their way into the world. It sets a good pace for the rest of the year. What we want from the rest of the year though is more from you. Developers, tinkerers, hackers and beyond. If there’s a project that you are working on or that you think should be talked about, let us know. If its at all robotics-related we’d love to hear about it and feature it next month. Send a summary to robotics.community@canonical.com, and we’ll be in touch.

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