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Attending ROS Kong 2014

As part of the OPW program with OSRF, I was able to fly out to the University of Hong Kong to attend  the first official ROS users meeting in Asia, ROS Kong 2014 [1]. ROS (Robot Operating System) is an open source framework (a collection of software tools, libraries and drivers) mostly used in robotics. There I met with one of my mentors, Tully Foote,  co-OPW intern Louise Poubel [2] and a subset of the international ROS community in attendance.

Speakers at the event highlighted research in a variety of topics that included service robotics applications, mapping, new and updated ROS packages and experience competing in the 2013 DARPA Grand Challenge. The presentations did not focus on the technical details but emphasized the range of research made possible with ROS. For example, getting a PR2 to fetch a sandwich :) [3]. As an added treat, there was also a demonstration of the HKU Team’s Atlas robot. Atlas first used its cameras and Lidar sensors to grasp a pipe/baton to demonstrate semi-autonomous operation. After a quick calibration dance, the robot proceeded to pick and place an empty 5-gallon water bottle, a hand drill, then quite delicately, an egg.

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OPW in Review

OPW Round 7 ran from December 11, 2013 to March 11, 2014. During the three months, I’ve been exposed to, in no particular order: automation with bash scripting, SVN with mercurial, C++ in writing Gazebo plugins and worlds, Python with Google AppEngine and CourseBuilder, Amazon’s EC2 via CloudSim and, of course, Google Hangouts. All these came with working on the CloudSim-Ed project, the output of a brainstorming session which combined the proposed a directed, simulation heavy robotics course supplement and the Mentor2 [1] program that targets secondary school students. And while the original simulation challenges were not the same as the envisioned ones, hopefully, the information gathered from this project can be used to launch more focused or creative ideas.

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GCB and the CloudSim Module

Google CourseBuilder (GCB) [1] was chosen to handle all MOOC related functions. While the prototype uses basic authentication to connect to CloudSim, future versions could use a single Google account to login to the course and CloudSim.
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Deploying Gazebo Simulations in CloudSim

Testing out the Actuation Challenge for use in CloudSim requires launching a Simulator-Stable constellation from a CloudSim instance, connecting through SSH and cloning the cloudsim-ed-actuation package from there. The deploy script from Hugo Boyer [1] accepts the bitbucket username and project name where the repository resides.

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A Gazebo Plugin: The Battery Indicator

The course prototype revolved around wheeled mobile robots. Simulation tasks and challenges featured a wheeled robot in a differential drive configuration which can be set up using different battery and motor pairs to observe how the chosen design affects robot movement. In the actuation challenge, four plugins were used. A World Plugin to keep track of the score; two Model Plugins, the differential drive controller and the battery plugin; and finally, the battery indicator, a visual plugin.
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