Willow Garage Blog

March 1, 2010

Box Turtle

We are excited to announce that our first ROS Distribution, "Box Turtle", is ready for you to download. We hope that regular distribution releases will increase the stability and adoption of ROS.

A ROS Distribution is just like a Linux distribution: it provides a broad set of libraries that are tested and released together. Box Turtle contains the many 1.0 libraries that were recently released. The 1.0 libraries in Box Turtle have stable APIs and will only be updated to provide bug fixes. We will also make every effort to maintain backwards-compatibility when we do our next release, "C Turtle".

There are many benefits of a distribution. Whether you're a developer trying to choose a consistent set of ROS libraries to develop against, an instructor needing a stable platform to develop course materials against, or an administrator creating a shared install, distributions make the process of installing and releasing ROS software a more straightforward process. The Box Turtle release will allow you to easily get bug fixes, without worry about new features breaking backwards compatibility.

With this Box Turtle release, installing ROS software is easier than ever before with Ubuntu debian packages. You can now "apt-get install" ROS and its many libraries. We've been using this capability at Willow Garage to install ROS on all of our robots. Our plugs team was able to write their revamped code on top of the Box Turtle libraries, which saved them time and provided greater stability.

Box Turtle includes two variants: "base" and "pr2". The base variant contains our core capabilities and tools, like navigation and visualization. The pr2 variant comes with the libraries we use on our shared installs for the PR2, as well as the libraries necessary for running the PR2 in simulation. Robots vary much more than personal computers, and we expect that future releases will include variants to cover other robot hardware platforms.

We have new installation instructions for ROS Box Turtle. Please try them out and let us know what you think!

March 1, 2010

At the beginning of the year, we released our PR2 Beta Program Call for Proposals. In response, we received an overwhelming 120 letters of intent to respond. It's now March 1st, and we're excited to see the final proposals coming in. Thanks to all of those who have taken interest in this program. We appreciate the effort that has gone into assembling the proposals, and we look forward to reading each one in detail.

Check out the video above for more information on the PR2, ROS, and the PR2 Beta Program.

February 26, 2010

We've got a lot of videos in pipeline coming up for you that explain various features of ROS, PR2, and Texas platforms. In the meantime, we've put together a montage -- enjoy!

February 25, 2010


The ROS 1.0.1 patch update has been released. This contains several patches, but no API changes. If you are using ROS 1.0.0, we recommend that you update.

You can check out the Change List here.

February 25, 2010

Given the swift progress of our Texas Project, we've updated our website with details about the Texas robot. You can check out an overview of the project and read answers to some of the most common questions we get about our telepresence robot.  Many of you have been asking how you can build your own telepresence robot, like the first Texas that was built out of spare parts. We've created a new Hardware Systems page for more information on tech specs, including the many off-the-shelf components we are using in the current Texas Alphas.

February 23, 2010

BRICSRadu Bogdan Rusu, Andreas Nuechter, Gary Bradski, and Alexey Zakharov are organizing a workshop at ICRA 2010 in Anchorage, Alaska, USA: Best Practice in 3D Perception and Modeling for Mobile Manipulation. The workshop will try to identify the state of the art of 3D perception and modeling algorithms for mobile manipulation.

We invite the community to submit papers presenting their latest work on perception and modeling for mobile manipulation. Please see the website for a more complete list of topics. We welcome preliminary results, particularly with compelling videos or live demonstrations. Whether or not you submit a paper, you are invited to attend the workshop.

The submission deadline is March 7, 2010; check the website for details.

February 22, 2010

Eight months ago, we were excited to share with you Milestone 2 footage of our PR2 Alpha plugging itself into a wall outlet to charge. The one-armed robot used a spiraling technique to slowly locate the outlet before plugging into the wall. With the completion of Milestone 3, the release of ROS 1.0, and the production of our first Beta robots, we realized that we could greatly improve the robot's plugging capabilities.

A team of five engineers spent the first two weeks of February improving the plugging-in software, enabling the PR2 to perform more efficiently and gracefully.  Instead of spiraling to find the outlet, the PR2 can now reliably locate the outlet with its cameras and plug in directly.

Numerous improvements to ROS made this possible in such a short timeframe and with so few people. During Milestone 3, we released 29 ROS stacks at 1.0 status, which gave the team a more stable and capable platform. These stacks included improved action, controller, and image libraries that were important for this effort. Milestone 3 also yielded easy-to-use, system-wide calibration, which provided the extra accuracy needed to eliminate the spiraling technique.

The new PR2 Betas are also much improved over their one-armed, Milestone 2 predecessors. During Milestone 2, we used the PR2's head-mounted camera and tilting laser to detect the outlet and plug. The PR2s now have a complete sensor package, including a head-mounted texture projector and two forearm cameras.

With these upgrades, the PR2 can find the wall using the texture projector, detect its plug using the left forearm camera, detect the outlet using the right forearm camera, and plug straight into the wall using the right gripper. Milestone 3 kept us pretty busy these past eight months, and we're glad to see how much of a difference this work has made.

February 20, 2010

We're organizing a workshop at CVPR 2010 to discuss the intersection of computer vision with human-robot interaction. We believe that for robots in human-populated environments, computer vision and human-robot interaction (HRI) can be highly complementary pursuits. Capable computer vision algorithms for tasks such as person detection, pose estimation, scene understanding or object recognition can facilitate a wide array of HRI systems which have only been teleoperated in the past. On the other hand, HRI tasks can elucidate the important features of computer vision algorithms, use human interaction to improve algorithm performance, and give those algorithms a larger context. Human-robot cooperation can even simplify computer vision tasks by improving viewing conditions.

We encourage researchers in the computer vision and HRI communities to participate. We'll discuss the state-of-the-art in each discipline and future directions of collaboration.

For more information, see the full webpage: CVforHRI2010

Call For Papers

Submission deadline: March 21, 2010. 23:59 PST

Papers should present research in computer vision techniques aimed at enabling human-robot interactions, or HRI research that makes use of state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms. Preference will be given to papers that address interaction as opposed to passive observation. We encourage algorithms that can be implemented on a robot or otherwise mobile platforms. We welcome multi-modal algorithms that combine camera information with other robot sensors.


  • Caroline Pantofaru (Willow Garage)
  • Leila Takayama (Willow Garage)
  • Rainer Stiefelhagen (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology & Fraunhofer)
  • Gary Bradski (Willow Garage)
February 19, 2010

The Care-O-bot 3 software platform was recently ported to ROS and is fully available as open source. You can now go to the ROS.org wiki and find documentation on the many software packages that they've released.

We're big fans of the Care-O-bot 3 platform from Fraunhofer IPA. Our booths at IREX 2009 were close by, so we got to watch as the Care-O-bot busily fetched beverages for attendees throughout the conference (some clips are in our IREX montage). The mobile manipulation robot features a clever arrangement of an arm and sensors that makes the robot two-sided: one side performs manipulation tasks with the arm, while the other side has a touch-screen tray that enables interaction with people.  The sensor head rotates 180 degrees to face either direction.  The Care-O-bot also has delightful flourish: its skin is made of foam, so it can surprise you with a bow.

Please see care-o-bot-research.org as well as the Fraunhofer IPA Care-O-bot site for more information.

February 19, 2010

Expert DaysThe annual SHUNK Expert Days on service robotics will be held from February 24-25 in Brackenheim-Hausen, Germany. The event brings together experts from both academia and industry to discuss current trends and identify new opportunities. This year's program includes special topics on advanced gripping skills, mobile manipulation and modular robotics, so we're excited that Eric Berger, Co-Director of the PR2 Program, will be attending to give a talk and exchange ideas.

Eric will be speaking on February 25 from 10:15-10:45 am. Eric's talk will be on ROS, the PR2, and the power of open and extensible systems for both research and commercial development. We also would like to point out Florian Weißhardt's talk on the Care-O-bot 3 platform on February 24, from 11:30-12:00. The Care-O-bot team is also supporting open source robotics and ROS, and we're excited to see the new shared opportunities this will create.