Feeling Motivated By ROSCon

Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) Associate Director Jarvis Schultz shares highlights from his recent trip to Madrid for the annual robotics conference.

Jarvis Schultz looks back on his time in Madrid for ROSCon 2018 and the lessons he learned at the annual conferenc.Jarvis Schultz looks back on his time in Madrid for ROSCon 2018 and the lessons he learned at the annual conferenc.

By Jarvis Schultz

Earlier this quarter, I had the opportunity to travel to Madrid for ROSCon 2018. The conference is an incredible way for ROS developers of all levels to spend a couple of days learning from another and networking with the ROS community.

Northwestern's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program was a bronze sponsor of the conference, which sold out in advance for the fourth straight year.

Historically, ROSCon was mostly an academic conference that was heavily student-focused. Recently, though, ROSCon has transitioned to being largely industrial. Of the nearly 500 attendees at this year's event, less than 20% were students; at earlier ROSCons that percentage was likely closer to 70%. This year also saw a record number of industrial sponsors.

My suspicion is that the increased industrial interest correlates to the advancement of ROS 2. The development of ROS 2 was first discussed at ROSCon in 2014. The idea was to redesign many of the ROS capabilities from the ground-up taking into account the many lessons learned from ROS 1 about what it takes to move a robotic system from the lab to the field. Many of those changes were decided on thanks to community discussions, surveys and publicly-available design documents.

Now, four years later, the first releases of ROS 2 are out, and the next release (called Crystal Clemmys) is expected in the next few weeks. These releases are close to full-featured , and it appears the industry is jumping on board in a big way. Of nearly 40 full-length talks at ROSCon this year, well over half were presented by industry, and roughly 70% involved ROS 2 in some way.  

This may be a little detailed, but there are a variety of reasons why companies are so interested in ROS 2. Personally, I think the biggest reason relates to the change to a DDS middleware. One of the core functionalities of ROS is its facilitation of interprocess communication. By switching to DDS, ROS 2 enables increased security, guaranteed quality-of-service, easier integration into hard real-time systems, increased commonalities with many pre-existing software applications, and an easier path to software certification in a variety of industries.

As these new releases come online, MSR staff and faculty will be paying close attention so that they can begin transitioning curriculum content to take advantage of these new features.

In addition to the advances of ROS2, there were several other highlights from ROSCon 2018, including:

  • Google announced "Google Cloud Robotics," a new platform that facilitates cross-robot collaboration supported by cloud computing.
  • Microsoft announced the release of experimental support for ROS on Windows. For most of its history ROS has primarily been feasibly run only on Unix/Linux systems, but Microsoft's support on releasing ROS for Windows will likely lead to accelerated widespread ROS adoption
  • Talks from Cruise Automation and Apex.AI presented interesting insight into how they have developed exciting, competitive self-driving car companies with software based on ROS.

Here in the MSR program, we tell our students to take advantage of the varying backgrounds and experiences of their classmates. The same was true for me at ROSCon. While hearing the latest developments was exciting, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to hear from, interact with and get to know more members of the global and diverse ROS community. I had a great time at ROSCon, and I returned to campus motivated and energized to share the experience with my students.