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suitable for industrial use?

asked 2013-01-14 16:15:58 -0500

aimc gravatar image

updated 2014-04-20 14:09:22 -0500

ngrennan gravatar image

Is ROS suitable for use on an industrial scale? (example: automatization of manufacture of plastic bottles).

Would be helpful if there were some example projects for these cases, if exist.

greetings to ros community

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answered 2013-01-14 18:59:55 -0500

Thomas gravatar image

updated 2013-01-15 16:03:28 -0500

Well, I guess that the website is the best proof that there is at least attempts to use ROS on an industrial scale (I don't know if there is systems currently in production however).

But again, the usual ambiguity appears in your question. If you ask if the roscomm layer and the ROS core tools are mature enough to support an use on an industrial case, I would say yes. There is, of course, still room for improvements but this seems definitively reasonable.

On the "pro" points, I would say that despite its relative young age, the huge adoption of ROS by the community made it so that this low-layer has been intensively used in the last past year which makes it something one can rely on. At least, if you compare it to other general-purpose robotics middleware.

There is of course limitations. There is no formal verification, for instance, of the ROS core layer which makes it unsuitable for critical operations. But, if you have this kind of requirements, the amount of software you can choose from becomes severely limited anyway...

Again, on the "con" point, if you consider not only the ROS communication layer but also all the other associated package then the answer is more "no". I mean, some packages are stable and well-tested (the PR2 ones for instance) but most of them are research code which have been packaged and may or may not work depending on your setup. These packages are the work of volunteers and suffer from very little workforce available and the usual research syndrom (aka code it, publish it, throw it). It may not be the case for all packages but it is an usual problem.

There have been discussion on how to split the packages between "mature" packages one can rely on and unstable packages but so far, except the fact that some are available as Debian packages, there is little hint to help one distinguish between these two kind of packages. Also, the ROS Industrial SIG have been discussing some kind of LTS support for ROS which would be more suited to plant automation than the current release cycle.

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answered 2013-01-15 16:41:49 -0500

I would agree with Thomas' assessment of the ROS software. However, it's important to note that while ROS may not be a perfect solution, there are a class of problems for which it is one of the only solutions. The state of the art within industrial robotics and automation has lagged behind cutting edge research in robotics. At this point ROS is five to ten ahead of commercial options when it comes to some raw capabilities. However, as Thomas points out, ROS is not as reliable or robust.

So what does this mean?

In the near term, I see ROS (and by extension, ROS-Industrial) as a solution to a class of industrial robotics applications that lack commercial solutions. Good examples include any application that requires a perception component and/or advanced path planning component. In these applications, end users, are probably willing to accept a 90% (i.e. imperfect) solution. It's important to remember that end-users only care about top-level metrics, ROI, uptime and throughput. Those aspects which are important to developers, usability and maintainability, only indirectly affect top-level metrics. I have seen many examples of nearly unreadable code that meets or exceeds top-level metrics.

In the long term, as ROS gains greater acceptance, aspects such as robustness, reliability, maintainability, and usability will improve (this is a goal of ROS-Industrial and the community at large). Industrial automation and robotics, if t ROS is adopted early, will then benefit by the sheer scale of ROS. The biggest hurdle in advancing the state of the art in industrial robotics is solely a problem of scale. The industrial robotics market is too small and has too many players to really advance technology. The solution is either consolidation or adopting an open solution such as ROS. An open solution, is the better option, because it pushes the state of the art, while still maintaining the competitive environment that results from many players.

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Asked: 2013-01-14 16:15:58 -0500

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Last updated: Jan 15 '13