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.