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Clearpath Robotics Now Supporting ROS on Windows

Program your yellow and black robots while avoiding Linux entirely

2 min read
Clearpath Robotics' Jackal ground robot
Photo: Clearpath Robotics

Part of the appeal of the Robot Operating System, or ROS, is that it’s much faster and easier to get started with robots because so much of the difficult and annoying groundwork is already done for you. This is totally true, but for many people, getting started with ROS adds a bunch of difficult and annoying groundwork of its own, in the form of Linux. All kinds of people will tell you, “Oh just learn Linux, it’s not so bad!” But sometimes, it really kind of is so bad, especially if all you want is for your robot to do cool stuff.

Since 2018, Microsoft has been working on getting ROS to run on Windows, the operating system used by those of us who mostly just want our computers to work without having to think about them all that much (a statement that Linux users will surely laugh at). For that to be really useful to the people who need it, though, there needs to be robot support, and today, Clearpath Robotics is adding ROS for Windows support to their fleet of friendly yellow and black ground robots.

A few interesting bits from the press release:

Engineering teams at Clearpath and Microsoft have worked together to bring support for ROS on Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and Windows 10 Desktop, to Clearpath robots, starting with Jackal UGV.

Windows offers various benefits which are applicable to robotics scenarios. Firstly, Windows provides multilayered security advances that protect deployments, detect anomalies and remediates issues through its enterprise-grade Windows security framework. Secondly, with Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and Azure IoT, users can take full advantage of cloud computing by offloading processes to the cloud or using cloud intelligence at the edge, for live decision making and autonomy. Finally, developers can utilize the same familiar toolsets and developer environments like Visual Studio or Visual Studio Code with extensions for ROS to expedite application development on ROS.

So far, this is just for the Clearpath Jackal, although Clearpath says that their other UGVs will be getting Windows support as well. 

Before you get too excited about all of this, keep in mind that running ROS on Windows is not yet what we’d call a streamlined experience. This is too bad, because one of the biggest potential benefits of ROS on Windows is for educational robots, where teachers and parents are going to have to get up to speed quickly (and troubleshoot somehow). It’s going to take a while to turn ROS for Windows into the magical Clippy-enabled experience that we all definitely want.

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

11 min read
Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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