If it wasn’t for COVID-19, we’d probably be in Paris right now, enjoying the beautiful weather, stuffing ourselves with pastries, and getting ready for another amazing edition of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), the world’s largest robotics research gathering. We’re not doing any of that, of course. Personally, I’ve barely left my house since March, and the in-person ICRA conference in Paris was quite sensibly cancelled a while ago.
The good news, however, is that ICRA is now a virtual conference instead, and the reason that it’s good news (and not just some sad pandemic-y compromise) is that the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) and the ICRA conference committees have put in an astonishing amount of work in a very short period of time to bring the entire conference online in a way that actually seems like it might work out pretty well for everyone.
Eighteen months ago, we traveled to Rwanda to see how Zipline had made fast, dependable drone delivery a critical part of medical supply infrastructure on a national scale. But outside of Africa, Zipline’s long-distance delivery drones have had to contend with complex and crowded airspace, decades of stale regulation, and a healthcare system that’s at least (sort of) functional, if not particularly agile.
Along with several other drone delivery companies, Zipline has been working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on small scale pilot projects over the past year or so to prove out the drone delivery concept, but progress has been slow. Now, though, COVID-19 has put enough additional stress on the U.S. healthcare system that the FAA has granted an emergency waiver to the Part 107 drone rules to allow North Carolina–based Novant Health to partner with Zipline on a beyond line-of-sight autonomous drone delivery service through controlled airspace—the first of its kind in the United States.
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.
This past Saturday, May 23, was World Turtle Day, the day that celebrates the newest release of the turtle-themed Robot Operating System (ROS)—and also probably some actual turtles—and so we reached out to Open Robotics CEO Brian Gerkey and developer advocate Katherine Scott. We wanted to talk to them because this particular World Turtle Day also marked the release of the very last version of ROS 1: Noetic Ninjemys. From here on out, if you want some new ROS, it’s going to be ROS 2 whether you like it or not.
For folks who have robots that have been running ROS 1 for the last 4,581 days (which is when the very first commit happened), it might be a tough transition, but Open Robotics says it’ll be worth it. Below is our brief Q&A with Gerkey and Scott, where they discuss whether it’s really going to be worth all the hassle to switch to ROS 2, and also what life will be like for ROS users 4,581 days from now.