Open Source Robotics Foundation Officially Announced

A press release from Willow Garage officially announces the formation of the Open Source Robotics Foundation, and we talk to the new CEO

4 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Open Source Robotics Foundation Officially Announced

Last month, we broke the news that DARPA had decided to award the contract to produce a standard simulation environment for its Humanoid Challenge to the Open Source Robotics Foundation, which nobody had really ever heard of. Notably, we're just getting a press release today that the OSRF has been officially formed or launched or spun off or what have you, and we now have details on the board of directors (which includes some very big names) as well as a bit more information about how everything is going to work.

Here's the OSRF's founding board of directors. This list certainly may expand in the future, but for now, this is how things will kick off:

  • Brian Gerkey—No surprises here; Dr. Gerkey is currently the Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage, but he'll be moving to the OSRF to take over as CEO. Brian won a TR35 award last year (which, as far as we can tell, is sort of like the People Magazine Sexiest Man (or Woman) Alive award for geeks), and he has an impressive history with open source robotics software.

  • Helen Greiner—Nobody is quite sure what Helen Greiner has been up to over at CyPhy Works (something about using autonomous quadrotors for infrastructure inspections and emergency response), but she's now on the board of the OSRF. She's also the president of the Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC), a non-profit organization established to speed the creation and deployment of ground robotics technology, which seems like it would dovetail pretty well with the OSRF.

  • Ryan Gariepy—As the co-founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics, Ryan Gariepy is quite experienced at (among other things) teaching TurtleBots to be Easter bunnies. Clearpath was also the first field robotics company to fully adopt and support ROS, and they know how to integrate ROS in industrial R&D environments.

  • Wolfram Burgard—Dr. Burgard is in charge of the Laboratory for Autonomous Intelligent Systems at the University of Freiburg, one of the lucky 11 institutions that got a PR2 as part of the Willow Garage Beta Program. He's also a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (yay!) as well as the American Association of Artificial Intelligence.

  • Sam Park—Sam Park is the guy on this list that you might not have heard of. He's the executive vice president of Yujin Robot, a South Korean company best known for their home and entertainment robots. As one of of South Korea's first generation of service robotics companies, Park is in a good position to promote the OSRF in Asia.

Today's press release comes from Willow Garage and not the OSRF itself, but we'll consider this the official send-off, with Willow releasing the OSRF out into the big scary world to fend for itself. This isn't to say that there won't be continuing relationship between the two: Steve Cousins, Willow's CEO, puts it thusly:

"It's always been the intention of Willow Garage to create an independent body that can take our initial work in open source robotics and see it grow beyond the confines of a single organization. The reality is that the popularity of open source robotics in general, and ROS specifically, has grown beyond our wildest expectations.  Willow Garage will enthusiastically support the goals of the OSRF." 

Our guess is that "enthusiastically" might also mean "financially," and it's probably fair to assume that Willow Garage will be one of the early sponsors of the OSRF. Of course, as far as we know, the first significant funding is still coming from DARPA, and we (and others) had some lingering questions about that.

Yesterday, we were able to score a brief interview with Brian Gerkey (the OSRF's CEO) about the present and future of the foundation. Dr. Gerkey explained that as a non-profit, everything that the OSRF does is bound by the scope of its mission statement, which is "to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development." As far as the deal with DARPA goes, the OSRF is on a contract to adapt the Gazebo simulator for the Humanoid Challenge, but at the same time, the OSRF will be making huge improvements to Gazebo (making it easier to use and adding cloud computing capability, among other things) that will benefit the entire open source community, all on DARPA's dime.

Going forward, the OSRF will likely continue to work on contracts like this, where someone pays it money to undertake a specific project. Also, there will probably be targeted grants from industry and academia, providing funds directed towards more generalized goals. And of course, there will (hopefully) be plenty of pure donations that the OSRF will be able to apply towards whatever it thinks will be most beneficial to the community as a whole. There's no way of knowing what the funding mix is going to be at this point, but as long as the OSRF sticks to their mission statement, it's all good for the community. Or that's the idea, anyway.

So, what happens next? Well, the OSRF is shopping for a place of its own outside of Willow Garage, but still somewhere in that steaming hotbed of tech that is the SF/Menlo Park area. By August, it hopes to have about a dozen full-time employees on board, leaving just two months to finish up the simulator project for DARPA. In the mean time, we've got ROSCon coming up next week right after ICRA, where we've heard that there's going to be a strong industry presence, which definitely bodes well for the future of ROS as well as the OSRF: we'll be there in person bringing you more details as they come.

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