Open source software gives robot research a head start (with video)

Jul 30, 2022

(News from Nanowerk) It would be great to have bots that can help us do important things, like helping with disaster recovery efforts or monitoring the environment. In the case of quadrupeds, robots that walk on four legs, their mobility requires many software components to work together seamlessly. It’s a drag when all your time is spent developing lower-level infrastructure instead of focusing on higher-level behaviors.

Aaron Johnson’s Robomechanics Lab Opens in a new window has experienced these frustrations firsthand. His team often had to rely on simple models to perform research because existing software solutions were not open source, did not provide a modular framework, and lacked end-to-end functionality.

Quad-SDK, a comprehensive software framework for agile quadrupedal locomotion.

An example of innovation born out of necessity, Johnson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering Opens in a new window, and his team designed their own locomotion software stack, Quad-SDK Opens in a new window, a comprehensive framework for quadrupedal locomotion agile. Many graduate students contributed to the development of the software over a two-year period, but it was time well invested. Their design can simplify the development process for roboticists around the world because it uses an open source license, which means the software can be used and modified however the user wishes.

Quad-SDK is out-of-the-box, so researchers don’t have to worry about implementing the necessary tools and infrastructure; instead, they can get to work on exciting behaviors and applications.

Unlike other options, Quad-SDK is also compatible with the robot operating system (ROS). ROS is middleware, somewhere between hardware and software, that allows different parts of a system to talk to each other. For example, if a robot detects an obstacle in its path and needs to transfer information from its perception module to its decision-making module, the ROS is what enables this communication. Imagine an app that doesn’t use iOS or Android, it’s a lot easier when it all works together.

Locomotion is a layered problem, as a team member and a PhD. the student Ardalan Tajbakhsh describes it. “In order to do anything meaningful on a robot, you need to have many components working together seamlessly.” Quad-SDK provides a framework for robotics researchers and developers to focus their efforts on core algorithms rather than software tools and infrastructure.

Other software packages are very good at solving one component, like motion planning, but having end-to-end frameworks that provide the algorithms, tools, and infrastructure needed to perform high-quality robotics research is essential. . Quad-SDK is a full stack, which means it contains all levels of the hierarchy that affect quadruped locomotion, starting with overall planning. This layer is at the top of the stack; Tajbakhsh compares it to Google Maps, as it chooses roughly where the robot should go to reach its destination. The next layer, the local planner, is what decides the specifics of the route, like where the robot should place its feet. This results in a third layer, the robot driver, which sends commands to the joints of the quadruped to perform the desired movement.

In the weeks following the award for Best Paper (“Quad-SDK: Full Stack Software Framework for Agile Quadrupedal Locomotion” at the Legged Robots Workshop at the IEEE 2022 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), people have already invited to use it, a clear indicator of the usefulness of its solutions and how the open source format invites collaboration within the robotics community.

About Georgia Duvall

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