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Brian Gerkey

by   -   December 14, 2013


There is serious momentum in robotics these days, evidenced by recent news from Apple, Amazon and Google:

  • Apple announced that they were investing $10.5 billion in supply chain robots and automation equipment and recently confirmed their acquisition of PrimeSense for $350 million (PrimeSense is the developer of the Kinnect 3D system used by MS Xbox)..
  • Amazon, in a CBS 60 Minutes piece aired last Sunday, displayed a new concept delivery system using an octocopter. Remember that in 2012 Amazon spent $750 million to acquire Kiva Systems, the robot technology enabling robotically-delivered goods to a picker/packer.
  • And now Google has set up a robotics division headed by the man behind the Android operating system, Andy Rubin. In Rubin’s first six months he has acquired seven robotic companies to jump start his new operation.
  • UPDATE 12-14-13: Google confirms its eighth acquisition: Boston Dynamics. The new acquisition is an engineering company that specializes in building dynamic robots and software for human simulation. The acquisition adds 80+ technicians, engineers and scientists to the new Google Robots Division talent pool – plus a new location.

What does it all mean?

Open source vs. proprietary software is an age old question. Since the advent of robotics, we also have the question of open source hardware.

In academia, where robotics researchers look to open source as a means of advancing community knowledge, the answer is perhaps more obvious. But in business, it’s clearly a balancing act. And so, ‘To be open, or not to be open?’ — that is the question for our panelists this month.

We asked Frank Tobe, Robert Morris and Brian Gerkey to weigh in. Here’s what they have to say …


Gerkey BrianBrian Gerkey on “Is open source a good business model for robotics?”

The IT economy has powerfully demonstrated what happens when companies can leverage open source infrastructure when they build new products and services.  A company like Google would never have come into existence had they not been able to rely from the beginning on solid open source tools like Python and GCC.  IBM would arguably have not been able to make its immensely successful pivot from products to services without Linux.  How many startups these days begin as a cloud-hosted machine running some derivative of the venerable LAMP stack? …

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robert-morrisRobert Morris on “Is open source a good business model for robotics?”

The premise of this question is that robotics companies are manufacturers and that there is choice between an open source and closed source business model.  Robotics companies are best thought of as service companies (even manufacturers, especially when moving beyond early adopters) and openness is not an ‘either/or’ choice, but rather a continuum.  In this day and age the question is, ‘What do you need to keep open create value for your customers?’ …

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Frank Tobe on “Is open source a good business model for robotics?”

Certainly robotics has its share of proprietary software and control systems. Each robot manufacturer markets their products based on the need for secure, proprietary and un-shared systems so that they can ensure stability and control. Whole industries have been set up to bridge those proprietary barriers so that multi-vendor solutions can happen …

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Based on a media rountable discussion with DRC Program Manager Gill Pratt and CEO of the Open Source Robotics Foundation Brian Gerkey.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear disaster was a wake-up call to the robotics community. In Japan, many asked why a country known for its cutting-edge robotics sector was unable to respond to the emergency. Worldwide, robotics experts pointed to the event as a real-world test of what robots can and cannot do.

Whether man-made or natural — or like Fukushima, a combination of the two — major catastrophic events, while rare, are becoming increasingly costly as human populations worldwide move to urban areas. This is why, in an effort to spur the development of agile humanoid first-responders, the US Department of Defense’s strategic plan identifies disaster response as a priority area, and why it is funnelling tens of millions of dollars into the DARPA Robotics Challenge.

by   -   May 15, 2013

The biggest obstacle to broader adoption of robotics is that only experienced roboticists can develop robotics applications.  To make a robot reliably and robustly do something useful, you need a deep understanding of a broad variety of topics, from state estimation to perception to path planning.  While few people in the world have this expertise, many people can write software.  What we need is more of those software developers involved in the business of developing robotics applications.

I say “applications” to distinguish this work from that of developing new algorithms or core building blocks.  Making an analogy to traditional software development, I don’t need to understand how process schedulers, or file systems, or memory managers work in order to develop useful desktop applications.  And I don’t need to know the details of DNS, web servers, or web sockets to develop portable web applications.  Knowing more about the underpinnings of the system will always be useful, of course.  But the key is that, once the building blocks are established, understood, documented, and tutorialized, the barrier has been greatly lowered: you just need to be able to write code.

Beyond just getting more people working with robots, we need better ideas for how robotics technology can be usefully and profitably employed to support people in their everyday lives.  My experience in the robotics community over the last 15 years has convinced me that roboticists are pathologically bad at coming up with application ideas.  We’re enamored of the technology, which is good in that it motivates us to work hard on important problems.  But it also leads us to concentrate on “robotic” solutions to problems, without regard to what people who experience those problems really need.  We can fix this problem by adding orders of magnitude more developers to our community, each of whom comes with a new and different perspective. And we can do that by making the development of robotics applications accessible to any competent programmer.

The Android and iOS platforms made it possible for people with no more than a passing understanding of 3G, GPS, or touch screens to build useful, even world-changing mobile applications.  We can do the same for robotics.  We’re on the right path, with a lot of effort going into open, shared software platforms for robotics.  We just need to keep pushing, and to keep the non-robotics engineer in mind when we’re building things.

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It has been said that we are on the edge of a ‘robotic tipping point’ … but where, exactly, is this edge? And what’s holding us back?  This month we asked our panelists to weigh in on what’s keeping robots from going mainstream. Here’s what they have to say …

Gerkey Brian Brian Gerkey on “What is the single biggest obstacle preventing robotics from going mainstream?”

The biggest obstacle to broader adoption of robotics is that only experienced roboticists can develop robotics applications. To make a robot reliably and robustly do something useful, you need a deep understanding of a broad variety of topics, from state estimation to perception to path planning …

Read more →


Mark Tilden Mark Tilden on “What is the single biggest obstacle preventing robotics from going mainstream?”

From experience, the single biggest obstacle to personal robotic markets is cost, both in money and time. Robots have the disadvantage of being over-promoted in fictional media while over-priced on the shelves. Sci-fi is fine to inspire if builders feel the money-time is justified, but …

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Alan-Winfield Alan Winfield on “What is the single biggest obstacle preventing robotics from going mainstream?”

Well it depends on what you mean by mainstream. For a number of  major industry sectors robotics is already mainstream. In assembly-line automation, for instance; or undersea oil well maintenance and inspection …

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by   -   May 24, 2012

ROSCon 2012 Keynote, by Morgan Quigley, with introduction by Brian Gerkey, Part 1 of 2.
(Duration 23:46) Post revised 08Aug2012.

by   -   May 17, 2012

OSRF logo
Announced via the Willow Garage website, the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) is an independent non-profit organization founded by members of the global robotics community. Its mission is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development. OSRF’s board of directors includes Professor Wolfram Burgard of the University of Freiburg, Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics, Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage, Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks, and Sam Park, Executive Vice President of Yujin Robot. Initially sponsored projects include the Robot Operating System (ROS), and Gazebo, a 3D multi-robot simulator with dynamics. Gazebo has been chosen by DARPA as the simulation platform for its recently announced robotics challenge for (humanoid) disaster robots.

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