Shadow Robot Company has joined the ranks of Willow Garage, iRobot, and many other robot developers which have some of their hardware running the Robot Operating System (ROS). According to the ROS blog, Shadow’s impressive Dextrous Hand is now ROS compatible. Why should you care? Well, as we’ve discussed earlier, that robot hand is pretty amazing. Now it’s also part of a collective effort. ROS is like a giant public library of robot programming code. It’s completely open source. The code you use to program your robot can be adapted by another team to use in their robot, and vice versa. By working with ROS, Shadow’s impressive hardware is on a growing list of devices which are part of this shared system. Robot developers everywhere will now be able to program the Shadow Dextrous Hand more easily and freely. This a big win for open source robotics.
The Shadow Robot Company was already doing some fine work in supporting the world robotics community. Their Dextrous Hand has long been available for other researchers to purchase in a development kit. This device is one of the most advanced hands of its kind, and had a cool interface: users could control it through a glove. ROS code for the hand kicks its usefulness up a notch. Now you don’t even have to purchase a Dextrous Hand to help develop it. Simulations for the device can be run using other ROS software. A whole new set of programmers can now work on the hand even if they didn’t have the money to buy a physical copy of it. This should accelerate the rate in which new and impressive software for the device is created.
The ROS ecosystem, as it were, benefits whenever new robot organisms are added. The more diverse the hardware, the more interest developers will have in ROS, and the more things that ROS robots will be able to accomplish. Already everything from humanoid bots to autonomous cars use the library. The Shadow Hand, however, diversifies an important niche in the system: fingered manipulators. Human-like robot hands are difficult to create, and other ROS robots, like Willow Garage’s PR2, tend to avoid that complexity if possible. By giving ROS another fingered limb to tinker with, the Dextrous Hand is helping set the stage for the eventual creation of a complete humanoid open source robot. It will take ROS developers and robotic researchers many years to arrive at such a goal, but the more teams that join the open source revolution the quicker we’ll make robots that look and perform like people. Kudos to the programmers who brought Shadow’s Hand to ROS. It’s another great step in the right direction.
[image credits: Shadow Robot Company, ROS]