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 In May Google and Willow Garage announced the first pure-Java implementation of ROS - Willow Garage's Robotic Operating System. Called “rosjava”, the new library is still at alpha level, but it is clear from their forge that active development continues.

Willow Garage's PR2 RobotAndroid is is well suited for robotic applications with its support of audio, accelerometers, GPS, cameras and wireless. The human factors of smartphones and tablets make them great devices for people monitoring and controlling robots. Audio, text-to-speech, speech recognition and touch displays all promote useability in a familiar context.

In a compelling demo at Google I/O, Ken Conley walked through constructing an application that let him hold up a tablet, turn his head and have the robot follow suit. He could see what the robot saw. In effect he had added a telepresence capability equivalent to a head mounted display. The tablet sent messages to the robot's existing ROS-hosted application seamlessly extending new capabilities over wifi.

ROS itself is intended to be as language independent as possible, supporting C++ and Python in addition to Java. The idea is to specialize functionality in “nodes” such that each node does one thing really well. Nodes are then able to message other components using a ROS-based application to create the needed coordination. Nodes can easily be distributed such that robots share and exploit common resources in the cloud.

Willow Garage's TurtlebotThere are a number of robots available with ROS. Willow Garage has designed Turtlebot as an inexpensive, open-source mobile platform which integrates machine vision using Microsoft's Kinect. If you already have iRobot's Create and a laptop, a kit can cost as little as $500-$600. Turtlebots have an avid hacker following and are available from Clearpath Robotics and I Heart Robotics

An inexpensive open source kit featuring a robotic arm is available from Bilibot. Bilibot should resume deliveries later this month after having run out of stock. More expensive will be iRobot's AVA, a Xoom powered Android robot which is expected to be introduced in the fall for creating telepresence applications. Finally Luna is a personal robot which is already out to developers.

A few months ago James Gosling turned up at Liquid Robotics. Liquid Robotics designs robots called Wave Gliders that collect sensor data while wandering the seas. Rowboat sized, they raft along on the surface propelled by an underwater sled which translates vertical wave action into thrust. Solar powered, they are self-sufficient and able travel thousands of miles while transmitting data.

Liquid Robotics Wave RunnerYesterday Liquid Robotics announced itsPacific Crossing (PacX) Challenge. Four Wave Gliders will launch from California trying to travel the longest distance at sea ever attempted by unmanned marine vehicles. The Gliders will fan out targeting destinations in Japan and Australia. While at sea, they will transmit readings on salinity, water temperature, waves, weather, fluorescence and dissolved oxygen.

So this is cool. But it gets better. Wave Glider data will be made available in near real-time to anyone interested. The only requirement is to register at the Liquid Robotics web site.

To compete for the PacX Challenge prize, contestants submit a one-page abstract outlining what science they will perform with the data from the voyage. A panel of ocean scientists will select the winner, who will get to help define the next Wave Glider mission.

It is not surprising that James Gosling is involved. James' interest in this area goes back many years. In 2005 he gave the Duke Award at JavaOne to an Agilent-Sun-SF State team deploying oceanographic sensors in San Francisco Bay. Called Netbeams, the project collected data using the Java Distributed Data Acquisition and Control Network along with the Romberg Tiberon Center's legacy devices. The goal was to send data real-time to the net via an inexpensive cellular family plan.

Now we see transoceanic Wave Glider robots sailing out boldly to take data where no data has been taken before. Bon voyage, Wave Gliders!

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