Friday, July 20, 2012

Open Source Robotics Foundation Interview

After the Open Source Robotics Foundation lightning talk at ROSCon 2012, we had a chance to interview Brian Gerkey CEO of OSRF about the role of the organization and its plans for the future.

What do you see as OSRF's core mission?
Our mission, which as a nonprofit company we're obligated to follow, is to "support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development." As you might expect, we'll primarily be doing open source software development: writing, improving, and contributing to open source code.  But we'll also be doing outreach and promotion, such as organizing future editions of ROSCon and working with companies that are considering using open source robotics software.

Will OSRF be involved in defining standards for service robots and/or UAVs?
As a veteran of multiple iterations of various robotics standards efforts, I'm instinctively wary of getting involved in new ones.  If the right people are involved and the goal is clear, I'm happy to participate.  But I don't see standards as one of the core contributions that OSRF will make to the community.

What will OSRF be doing to encourage use of open source in robotics?
Some possible things might be:
  • Set up web sites for hosting of open software/hardware designs
  • Define curricula packages which can be used in schools or universities
  • A search engine for open robot designs
  • Encourage modularity and recombination of existing designs
  • Sponsor the creation of a robotics Linux distro (Robuntu, or whatever)
  • An achievements system similar to the Ubuntu achievements lens
  • Set up a site where there are always telerobots available to test drive
Those all sound like good ideas :)  At the moment, we're focused on getting the company set up and ready to jump into software development.  We don't have any concrete plans for the kinds of activities you mentioned there, but we're always listening for good ideas.

How will OSRF be structured?  Will board members be elected?  Will there be different types of membership?
Legally, OSRF is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation.  Its
activities are overseen by a board of directors, who are listed at the
website [].  The membership of the board can change over time, as decided by the board.  We will very likely offer individual and corporate memberships; stay tuned.

As a significant amount of code developed for projects like ROS is written by graduate students and hackers. How are their interests represented?
One of our goals in creating OSRF is to provide a neutral steward for the community, which we believe will in turn lead to greater contribution to and adoption of open source robot software.  That's good for everybody involved, but it's especially good for students who will graduate and look for jobs, and for hackers and hobbyists who are cooking up new companies in their garages.  More specifically, events like ROSCon offer a great opportunity for students and hackers who aren't otherwise connected to the broader community to get involved and meet like-minded people.

Is the OSRF interested in supporting other projects?
Initially, we're planning to put a lot of work into the Gazebo simulator and the ROS software that surrounds it.  We believe that there is a lot of benefit to be had by significantly improving the capability and availability of robot simulation, and that we can have greater impact by taking a "deep dive" in one area rather than taking shallow responsibility for everything.  Over time, we'll contribute to a broader variety of projects, mostly drawn from the ROS ecosystem.

Is the OSRF primarily focused on software or is there also interest in supporting open source robotics hardware?
We're certainly supportive of efforts in open source robotics hardware, but OSRF is a software-focused organization.  Because we work on robot software, we'll necessarily work with hardware, but I don't foresee OSRF doing much in the way of hardware development.

Is there a way for individuals or companies to financially support the OSRF? If so, how?
Absolutely!  As a nonprofit company, OSRF is open to discussing all sorts of financial support: donations, grants, contracts, etc.  We're still tying up the loose ends on getting OSRF set up and running.  Once that's all in place this summer, we'll start talking in earnest with both companies and individuals about what sort of financial support they might be able to provide.  In the meantime, please send any inquiries about supporting OSRF to

Will the OSRF look toward something like a "ROS Compatible" certification program at some point in the future?
A ROS certification program is an interesting idea, and is something
that OSRF will look into.  It's probably most valuable in a domain-specific manner.  For example, I can imagine a way of certifying a ROS-controlled industrial robot arm as being compatible with an accepted ROS interface standard (perhaps crafted by the forthcoming ROS Industrial Consortium: Similarly, I can imagine a TurtleBot being certified as implementing REP 119 (  But I would stress that *compatibility* would be the focus; certifying functionality is an entirely different topic.

Do you have any insights on why open source is important for robotics in particular?
I don't think that open source is important for robotics in particular; I think that it's important for every emerging sector of the computer industry.  Innovation and entrepreneurship works best when the people with good ideas for how to use some new technology are provided with an open source toolbox that's easy and free to use. Robotics is one of many domains where the availability of good open source software will have a large positive impact on how the market develops.

Is the OSRF taking over release management of ROS or is this a long term goal?
For now, Willow Garage will continue to handle ROS release management, led by ROS Platform Manager Tully Foote.  OSRF will coordinate closely with Willow on ROS releases, and, over time, I expect that the responsibility for release management will transition to OSRF.   The timing of the transition will depend, primarily, on staffing and funding.

Thanks to Brian for talking emailing with us!

Also as an added bonus, Brian has just announced that OSRF is hiring!

Update: Fixed link to Board of Directors

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