Friday, June 10, 2011

Robotics open source

The e-cast did not wait the current vogue of the Do It Yourself (DIY) to address robotics, which has always made them happy. Yet until recently, there was a clear separation between the often brilliant work of amateurs and those of professional robotics. One reason is perhaps the lack of open source systems to a high level of complexity allowing fans to learn from the experiences of their peers but also researchers.

So far, the choice of proprietary software remains the standard among manufacturers. The unfortunate history of Aibo, the robotic dog from Sony is an example. In 2005, a user had managed to decipher some of the software to perform the quadrupeds few tricks of his own: no dancing, gift of speech ...

then sued Sony had the unfortunate, before agreeing, under pressure from users that the "hacker" continues to post his changes over the Net, but under certain conditions. And why all these precautions? In the end, Aibo is gone and all the research on are no longer available anywhere, as noted with sadness an article in Make Magazine, "" If you are going to kill it, open source it "(which could translated as "kill as well as your product, put it all open source!").

But things change. Recently, several ads reflect a real change in mentality. We learn that the French company Aldebaran has decided to publish the source code of its humanoid robot Nao (it was always possible to "customize" Nao via scripting languages, but this is to provide access to core functionality of the robot).

The company Willow Garage, she has long advocated the open source model for its robotics software. She is originally from PR2 (recently mentioned in Internet News). A robot attractive, but, even as open source, could be suitable for amateurs, its price ranging between 280 and $ 400 000.

Recently, Willow Garage has decided to put his work within reach of a little less filled by offering the Turtlebot. This robot looks like a wholesale Roomba (the vacuuming robot from iRobot) on several floors. This is not surprising, since the base is actually a iRobot Create to which an associate KINECTS (the camera from Microsoft that allows you to control a video game without a joystick and has since been diverted to other uses full) Asus and a computer.

In short, it will be understood: if Turtlebot is relatively inexpensive because it is not composed of original elements, but an assembly of systems already on the market. The Turtlebot cost between $ 500 for a version of "minimal" (without the laptop and the base Create, which is available separately), $ 1200 for the complete system.

We can still wonder what a robot devoid of any prehensile power may prove capable of doing, as it is even more damn aspire. Apparently, it would effect the above mapping locations where he travels and take pictures ... But fans already seem to be based on Turtlebot to develop more sophisticated projects, as evidenced Polyro (open source friendly robot), although the appearance more humanoid, whose method of construction is revealed by its creator on the DIY site Instructables.

com. The great contribution of Willow Garage in the field of open source software is probably the creation of an operating system, non-owner, ROS (Robot Operating System). Note that the ROS has found other jobs as robotics hardline. The company integrates Pukas ROS indeed a surfboard ...! The latter, equipped with sensors of all kinds, could save all the parameters constituting the experience of the wave, to improve the design boards, and the rider to increase his skills.

Recently, ROS has been a further step in its development, since Google announced the availability of ROSjava. Google's goal is to open the market for robotics to Androids. According to Zdnet, it would "outsource" many functions of the robot software (mapping, speech, etc..) In "the cloud", where the cloud computing now find accommodation.

Suddenly, the robot would be much cheaper and consume less energy. Another robot that is "fully programmable" and open source has also emerged in recent weeks. Luna Robodynamics aims to be the trigger for personal robotics, as was the Apple in his time. The operating system is freely accessible.

Only problem: price. Initially announced at $ 1000. Luna actually dangerously approaching $ 3,000. But Luna, at least if one believes Singularity Hub, have a feature that its competitors do not have. It would be a telepresence robot that can be remotely controlled by its owner. Still, the software is only part of robotics.

Willow Garage, for example, does not sound as open source hardware, nor Aldebaran. Not yet ... because this step has already been taken by the team of Dennis Hong of the University of Virginia. Their robot Darwin-OP is completely open source. In other words, in addition to the software, plans for the machine and hardware specifications can be freely downloaded from the net.

If one chooses to buy a Darwin-OP already done everything, even when it cost a whopping $ 12 000. Too expensive for an amateur, but a bargain when compared to a PR2. Darwin-OP is all the more interesting it is a humanoid robot, a technology which, although it often raises skepticism, is nevertheless the only really associated in the mind People, the word "robot".

Remains whether open-source robotics, software and hardware, will enable us to renew the discipline.

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