Editorial Feature

What is Open Source Robotics?

Robotics is playing a significant role in the new technological frontier. Now, tens of thousands of developers are working with robotic operating systems to build the future of the field. Open-source robotics is one of the latest technologies to drive the field of robotics forward. This article will discuss this topic and how open source robotics differs from typical robotics.

What is Open Source Robotics? open source robotics

Image Credit: Visual Generation/Shutterstock.com

Open Source Software: An Overview

Open-source software (OSS) is distributed with its source code, making it possible for users to adapt, modify, and use the software under certain conditions. OSS is supplied with its original rights and includes a license that allows programmers to modify the software to fit their needs and control its distribution. Licenses include the GNU Public License, MIT License, Apache License, and the BSD License.

There are numerous examples of OSS freely available on the market. These include Libre Office, Mozilla Firefox, the Apache web server, GIMP, jQuery, and GNU/Linux. Advantages of OSS software over closed source software include being free, stable, flexible, the fact that OSS fosters ingenuity, and a built-in community of developers. However, increased difficulty of use and adoption, compatibility issues, liability issues, and unexpected costs in training are all commonplace problems users are likely to face.

How Does Open-Source Robotics Differ from Other Forms of Robotics?

Robotics is concerned with designing, developing, and using robots, typically using proprietary software that presents a challenge to the need to code robotics software from scratch.

Proprietary software also presents problems in how it can be integrated into other technologies, along with issues with customization. It can often give the company a competitive edge over its rivals.

Open-source robotics and Robot Operating Systems seek to disrupt this practice and improve upon the problems new entrants into the industry typically face.

This area of robotics differs by using open-source hardware that provides source codes, blueprints, and schematics. The open-source robotics movement is closely related to open science and the maker movement, allowing users to make the hardware from standard tools and components. The hardware is easily discerned by anyone who wants to build it and is cheaper than using proprietary software.

A Robot Operating System (ROS) is a BSD-licensed open-source software development kit that helps developers build robots from the ground up, encouraging collaborative development. This open-source software includes source codes, drivers, algorithms, libraries, conventions, and developer tools to simplify the process of creating robots. The ROS has been around for about a decade, first developed in 2007 at Stanford by Keenan Wyrobek and Eric Berger.

Other open-source robotics platforms include YARP, MPRT, and Ignition (formerly known as Gazebo.) Simply put, ROS enables companies to build complex robots in less time, bringing them to market much faster than previously possible.

Industrial Examples of Open-Source Robots

Open-source robotics has moved out of the academic and hobbyist sectors into more widespread industrial uptake and use. Many thousands of developers work in the industry to create complex robots that can carry out a wide variety of commercially viable functions.

Examples include telepresence robots and mobile manipulators, which have been used as care assistants and household robots. They have also helped quadriplegic patients to explore their environment and have even aided astronauts in completing complex tasks in space.

Specific examples of ROS-enabled robots that are available on the market include Ned, a manipulator developed by Nixus and Tally, an autonomous shelf auditing robot developed by Simbe Robotics. Roshand Gen2 is a robotic hand from Verma Robotics in China.

AMIGO (Autonomous Mate for IntelliGent Operations) has been developed by the Eindhoven University of Technology for domestic service applications. The Nav2 is a modular robotics platform that can be used as a telepresence robot. More products are entering the market every year as the open-source robotics industry grows.

Introducing Reachy the new open source interactive robot - 2020

Video Credit: Pollen Robotics/YouTube.com

What Challenges are Associated with Open Source Robotics?

Like any field, challenges exist for open source robotics. A primary issue is cybersecurity; as the software and source code is online, anyone can access it, increasing the possibility of disruption by bad actors. This can lead to costs, legal issues, and potential dangers, especially if the robot is used in critical infrastructure systems. Open-source robots could become a backdoor into a system if cybersecurity is not paid attention to.

Profit is also a challenge: companies cannot act as monopolies on development. The source code can be used by anyone, even the company’s main competitors. There is also an image problem: this is a new field that some companies still see as amateurish, with low quality and lack of support.

Companies working in the field must emphasize their professionalism and what differentiates them from the efforts of amateurs and hobbyists.

However, the potential benefits of open-source robots can be said to outstrip these disadvantages, paving the way for significant market growth and innovation in the field whilst overcoming any challenges that currently exist.

Which Industries Will Benefit from the Field?

Open-source robotics has the potential to be eminently useful for a variety of industries, including healthcare, education, transportation, social care, manufacturing, business, warehousing, infrastructure, the military, and even space exploration. The ability to build robots from scratch provides vast benefits to cost, production, and research and development.

As the world is becoming more automated: open-source robotics looks set to play a crucial role in the future of industry and society.

Future Outlooks for Open-Source Robotics

Innovation and investment in next-generation technologies will help us overcome the challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. Robots are a critical technology that is changing the world, with the global robotics market predicted to be worth $74.1 billion by 2026. By presenting solutions to several current issues in robotics, open-source robotics will doubtless show significant growth of market share in this sector over the next few decades.

Continue reading: Industrial Automation: Challenges to Overcome.

References and Further Reading

Synopsys.com. (2021) What Is Open Source Software and How Does It Work? | Synopsys. [online] Available at: https://www.synopsys.com/glossary/what-is-open-source-software.html

Ros.org. (2021) ROS: Home. [online] Available at: https://www.ros.org/

Asay, M., (2020) The hottest thing in robotics is an open source project you've never heard of. [online] TechRepublic. Available at: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/the-hottest-thing-in-robotics-is-an-open-source-project-youve-never-heard-of/

Open Robotics. (2021) Open Robotics. [online] Available at: https://www.openrobotics.org/

Medevel.com (2021) Top 5 Free and Open Source Robotics Frameworks [online] https://medevel.com/top-5-free-and-open-source-robotics-frameworks/

Noury, G., (2021) Open Source Robotics Challenges – Planning for Security | Ubuntu. [online] Ubuntu. Available at: https://ubuntu.com/blog/open-source-robotics-challenges

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.


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