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Lowest end computer that will run ROS and all its tools

asked 2020-03-03 06:00:33 -0500

pitosalas gravatar image

updated 2020-03-03 14:08:49 -0500

gvdhoorn gravatar image

I am setting up a minimal usable computer for a student to begin to learn ros and robotics. tested running ros, rviz and gazebo on a raspberry pi and it works but is not usable. Gazebo is doing 1 FPS.

Now I think I the standard advise is to get the most powerful computer you can afford because robotics is resource intensive. I know that. But after trying and not finding amazon robot builder (too complicated for us) and theconstruct.com’s RDS (too expensive) suitable I am trying this thread.

Does anyone have experience with this?


Edit: I teach a course in Robotics where we start working on ROS in simulation, then on a robot inside and then on a robot outside. Students come to class with all kinds of random hardware, Mac, windows, Game computers, some old and broken, some brand new. The first few weeks of class are a challenge. I've tried many things to try and reduce the learning curve:

  1. Use a virtual machine like VMWare. Problems: Usually not fast enough to run Gazebo. Students may not have enough free disk space.
  2. Use a cloud based robotics platform like Amazon RobotMaker and TheConstruct.org's RDS (Robot Development Studio). Amazon last I checked is a bit of a nightmare to get set up for mere mortals. RDS is too expensive for my purposes.
  3. Build bootable external SSD's and have students dual boot into Linux. This is pretty promising but building the SSDs is a very very tricky business and then they still don't work with all student hardware. For example the newest Mac notebooks literally will not permit dual booting off an external drive. Still this had a 80% success rate but it was really labor intensive.
  4. Provide pre-setup "cheap" laptops ($500-$700) for each students. This works great except it's too expensive. I don't have the budget to have one for each student or each of two students.

Now my next thing to try is to setting up a minimal usable computer for a student to begin to learn ros and robotics. tested running ros, rviz and gazebo on a raspberry pi 4. We have that working but Gazebo is intolerably slow. So I am exploring this vector and want to hear from others who have gone down this path and have identified some configuration that's less than a $500 laptop and still gives the student a decent and rewarding experience.

Does anyone have experience with this?

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answered 2020-03-03 09:24:49 -0500

updated 2020-03-03 09:34:38 -0500

To break that down a bit:

  • ROS/program

Depending on what you’re doing, an RPI can potentially handle that. The nav stack has been shown multiple times on a raspberry pi for a sufficiently small environment / hobbyists. You’d have to tell us what you’re doing or running to know if that’s sufficient.

  • Gazebo

Gazebo doesn't even run 100% realtime often on my 6th gen i7. If using simulation time, things should work fine anyway just take longer. This is an intensive physics simulator (and if you run GUI, it gets real slow, real fast). Do not run this on embedded boards, there’s no purpose like you’ve found. This is a desktop or cloud application and it’ll take a bunch of memory on disk.

  • rviz

Same(ish) as gazebo. That’s a desktop application. Not nearly as heavy and I’m certainly guilty of doing that on occasion but you should avoid it. If the RPI is your robot computer, your main computer should connect to it and do rviz for data viewing.

On compute “minimum” to do all of this is going to be application specific. Please let us know what you’re up to. But an i3 for basic application should be fine (no gazebo). An i5/i7 for processing depth and/or images (and gazebo). If you use alot of GPU, and Jetson lines may be good, but only some CPU cores (no gazebo). You probably want a desktop tower to not get a mobile processor if you need to do all on one machine and aren’t actually deploying a robot.

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Thanks for your great insights and information. Please check above for a major revision of the entry.

pitosalas gravatar image pitosalas  ( 2020-03-03 13:37:29 -0500 )edit

@pitosalas: please do not rewrite questions like this. If you have new information, or want to interact with people posting answers, add to your original question.

It's not very nice to essentially "erase" your original question and then replace it with something else, as it makes it very difficult to relate the answer(s) to the question. It's also not very fair to the people who have responded, as suddenly their answers do not make sense any more.

I would advise to revert your edit, append an Edit section to your original question and then paste whatever you have there now.

gvdhoorn gravatar image gvdhoorn  ( 2020-03-03 14:03:28 -0500 )edit

It's really exactly the same question but with a lot more detail which is what @stevemacenski requested. In the past I was advised to do this. I am glad to revert but I don't see how to do that. Tips?

pitosalas gravatar image pitosalas  ( 2020-03-03 14:04:49 -0500 )edit

This was the original question:

I am setting up a minimal usable computer for a student to begin to learn ros and robotics. tested running ros, rviz and gazebo on a raspberry pi and it works but is not usable. Gazebo is doing 1 FPS.

Now I think I the standard advise is to get the most powerful computer you can afford because robotics is resource intensive. I know that. But after trying and not finding amazon robot builder (too complicated for us) and theconstruct.com’s RDS (too expensive) suitable I am trying this thread.

Does anyone have experience with this?

that doesn't read like the exact same question.

In the past I was advised to do this.

To completely rewrite a question? Update it maybe, but rewriting is never good.

I am glad to revert but I don't see how to do that. Tips?

I can ...(more)

gvdhoorn gravatar image gvdhoorn  ( 2020-03-03 14:08:02 -0500 )edit
1

To add to what @stevemacenski writes: I would not go for Gazebo. @pitosalas: do you absolutely need a full fledged 6D physics sim with real-time visualisation?

To get into ROS, I would say "no, you don't".

I'd suggest to look at simulators such as stdr_simulator. 2D only, but pretty OK for basic navigation work. Multi-robot as well.

That leaves just RViz as a "heavy" application.

Don't ever run Gazebo on RPis. There is no point.

gvdhoorn gravatar image gvdhoorn  ( 2020-03-03 14:26:07 -0500 )edit

Thanks for the help and feedback @stevemacenski and @gvdhoorn. Two questions: I need to be able to show students SLAM and point clouds. My impression is that this is done only with Gazzebo and that stdr_simulator. But I may be wrong. And second note: I didn't ask how to run Gazebo on a Pi4. I asked what is the lowest power computer that can run gazebo reasonably well. Do any of you have experience trying to run it on linux box in the $200 range? Intel NUC or one of the zillions of other ones?

pitosalas gravatar image pitosalas  ( 2020-03-03 19:04:51 -0500 )edit

I cannot speak for the STDR simulator - this is the first I've heard of it. There's also Player, which does 2D simulation. If you want to process pointclouds, you will need something that can generate 3D pointclouds, ei a 3D simulator. I would agree though with @gvdhoorn that for student use, pointclouds and 3D sensors might be overkill, depending on the education level (but from your description it sounds like high school or below, which this might be overkill) so the 2D simulator could work.

I'd give another shot at the construct or AWS products, maybe contact Ricardo to see if you can get a discount for it or I can connect you with AWS people that would be probably willing to help. That really seems like your best bet if you're short on budget and also can't control the compute resources or even OS

stevemacenski gravatar image stevemacenski  ( 2020-03-04 16:20:19 -0500 )edit

@stevemacenski thanks. Ricardo doesn't give discounts. And I am talking to AWS next. This is an undergraduate college course. Thanks everyone!

pitosalas gravatar image pitosalas  ( 2020-03-04 16:22:10 -0500 )edit

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Asked: 2020-03-03 06:00:33 -0500

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Last updated: Mar 03 '20