Those little Lego robots you've been building just became much more powerful. Willow Garage recently announced that it designed code to link the popular Lego Mindstorms NXT to the formidable Robot Operating System (ROS). ROS is an open source collection of robotics software that has been used on everything from autonomous cars to humanoid bipeds. We're talking world class robotics research here. Now that versatile library can be accessed by amateur and beginning robotics engineers using Lego NXT. To demonstrate the new capabilities, Willow Garage plugged models from Lego Digital Designer into ROS's 3D visualization display. Using ROS code, the NXT robot can build maps of its surroundings, and it can use those to navigate around. That's just a tiny sample of all the cool code that is now available. Check out the video below to see beginning of the ROS/Lego alliance.
Singularity Hub has seen its fair share of amazing Lego NXT robots. They can solve Rubik's Cubes (in so many different ways), model Segways, play Tetris - it's an impressive catalog. Yet every time I see these amateur accomplishments I lament the fact that so much time and talent has been spent in efforts that, while cool looking, aren't really advancing research in the robotics community. What we really need is a way of getting hard working Lego NXT enthusiasts building more advanced and useful systems. Willow Garage's work to bring Lego into the ROS fold is a great step in that direction. Sure, in the beginning the flow of innovation will be one sided. Lego NXT builders will be simply taking ROS code and seeing what kind of amazing new things they can do with it. Eventually however we'll see some insights trickling in the other direction. Lessons learned in Lego may help design new ROS code. And once it's in ROS it's available to everyone in the robotics community.
I'm really happy with this development. Willow Garage has built a bridge to connect the power of ROS with the democracy of Lego. I can't wait to see what happens next.
[screen capture and video credits: Willow Garage]