The State of Robotics – October 2019

Rhys Davies

on 1 November 2019

October came, and October went. Happy November everybody. This month, since last month was quite Ubuntu robotics heavy, the focus is more on you. For you. Community news. But before we get to that, there are several updates from October to cover just in case you missed them. First, this month Canonical, the company that publishes Ubuntu, announced the Ubuntu 19.10 release (a fact I would be remiss not to mention even here) and all its new features. Go ahead and read about it, maybe give it a download once you’re done. We also got a new cover image (isn’t it nice <3), and we received our first community contribution for the series — a very exciting month.

Of course, what we want is for this to grow and become a highlight reel of all sorts of robotics projects. So, if you are working on (or know of) something that you think would be interesting to our audience, let us know. Send a summary of the work to, and it might just feature in next month’s blog. Now, let’s talk October.

Webots in the Snap Store

Webots is an open-source robot simulator. It is compatible with ROS 1 and ROS 2 and runs on Linux, Windows and macOS. It was initially developed at EPFL in 1996 as proprietary software available from Cyberbotics and became open source in December 2018. This move was, naturally, well acclaimed by the robotics community. It boasts about 240,000 downloads from the GitHub repository, numerous forks, contributions, questions on the Webots discord channel, and so on. Cyberbotics is still actively continuing the development of Webots, mainly funded by industrial and academic partnerships.

Webots main features include:

  • Advanced 3D rendering capabilities with state-of-the-art physically based rendering (PBR)
  • Full reproducibility of simulations
  • Realistic and GPU-optimized sensor models
  • ROS 1 and ROS 2 compatibility
  • Advanced physics simulation based on a fork of ODE with several improvements:
    •   optimized contact points allowing for better grasping capabilities
    •   fluid dynamics
    •   multi-threading
    •   bug fixes
  • Libraries of robots, sensors and actuators
  • Multi-platform support (Linux, Windows, macOS)
  • Transfer to real robots

Recently, Webots became available on the snap store! So now users can install it easily on their favourite Linux distribution. Installing Webots from the snap store is an excellent option to get started with Webots. It is straightforward and contains all the necessary dependencies, so everything works out-of-the-box.

To install the snap,

sudo snap install webots

In the future, Cyberbotics will continue to maintain Webots and improve its integration with ROS 1 and 2 using snaps, to guarantee that using Webots with ROS is child’s play.

Some things for roboticists to know as Python 2 approaches end-of-life

As folks hopefully know, Python 2 is two months away from its end of life. This is important for users of the Robot Operating System (ROS) because all existing ROS 1 releases depend upon Python 2. There are plans in place for the next ROS 1 release to use Python 3 (all ROS 2 releases already use Python 3), but what does this mean for users of existing ROS 1 releases (Melodic, Kinetic, or even older)? Fear not, the Ubuntu Robotics team says not to worry: If you’re using a supported Ubuntu release, the Python 2 available in the Ubuntu repositories will continue to be supported for the lifetime of the Ubuntu release, regardless of Python 2’s upstream support status.

ROS 2 Eloquent Elusor beta now available

Eloquent Elusor is the codename of the next ROS 2 release, and it’s slated to release in mid to late November. However, a release is only as good as its testing, and the entire ROS community can help! The beta is available now. Please take it for a spin and report any issues you find; let’s ensure that the next release is the best so far.

Feeling creative? Got any suggestions for the name of the next ROS 2 release?

As we approach the release date for ROS 2 Eloquent, it’s time to come up with a name for ROS 2 F. The pattern is <adjective> <turtle>, both of which must begin with F. Kyle Fazzari from the Ubuntu Robotics team came up with the adjective for the current ROS 2 release (Dashing). Want to feel as cool as he does? Throw out some ideas!

Interested in robotics security, but not quite sure what this SROS 2 thing is?

You’re not alone. The Ubuntu Robotics team has been hard at work on the security features of version 2 of the Robot Operating System (ROS 2). But they realize that those security features are little opaque, distributed, and filled with historical references that aren’t entirely clear to newcomers. Fortunately, at the start of the month, they wrote a post that helpfully outlines the security features currently available in ROS 2 along with how they work. Take a look. 

Check-out the kimera-vio-ros package!

Recently released, the kimera-vio-ros package is a ROS wrapper around a Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) solution. They are used for accurate state estimation using stereo-cameras and IMU data. It also provides SLAM capabilities and 3D Mesh generation through complementary modules. Quite a bundle of state of the art algorithms. We owe this impressive work to the SPARKlab at MIT.

Universal Robots launches ROS driver

In the first third of October Universal Robots (UR) announced the launch of a ROS driver. An open-source driver to deliver a more natural plug’n’play capability for UR robots, a best ROS practice, industrial-grade interface, and an assurance of quality from the driver built on stable and versioned API’s. There are two modes of operation: remote control and ROS usage in URCAP. Explore all of this and more through the UR Github account.

Robotics Conferences

As a team of engineers, the entire Ubuntu robotics team makes an effort to represent at as many conferences or summit as possible. The months of October plays host to two such conferences that the team will attend. Both will spill over into November, and the discussion will have already started when you are reading this.  The following photo was taken on Day 1 of ROSCon 2019:

ROSCon 2019

ROSCon 2019 is upon us. From the 30th of October to the 2nd of November, the world of robots powered by ROS will come together. Makers and developers come from across the globe to gather in one place, to discuss and talk and review the world of robotics as we know it. Is there a more momentous occasion? Well, yes, but it should be pretty great. 

This year ROSCon is in Macau, and there is lots packed in. From keynotes discussing robotics in healthcare to Chris Lalancette from Open Robotics and Ian McMahon from the Toyota research institute discussing a street-level robotics community in Boston. The Ubuntu robotics team announced its attendance and will be there trying out some new demos and talking to the community. And for anyone who’s staying the weekend or pushing on to IROS, you can check out the first annual, all day, Moveit workshop, sponsored by PickNik Consulting.

IROS 2019

The international conference on intelligent robots and systems (IROS) this year follows ROSCon 2019 in Macau. For those who don’t know, it is co-sponsored by: The IEEE and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS), the IEEE Industrial Electronics Society (IES), the Robotics Society of Japan (RSJ), the Society of Instruments and Control Engineers (SICE), and the New Technology Foundation (NTF). And again, for those who don’t know these are all big names and authorities in computer engineering, biomedical technology and telecommunications, to electric power, aerospace and consumer electronics, among other things.

All of which means that it won’t be a conference to miss. With workshops and tutorials bookending the conference and various keynote speeches and technical talks in between it will be a cacophony of knowledge. Members of the Ubuntu robotics team will be there to take it all in so see if you can find them.

ROS – Industrial Conference 2019

This one breaks the rules a little bit since it’s not actually in October, but early bird registrations opened this month. In case any readers want to go and want a discounted registration head over and register as soon as you can. At least one member of the Ubuntu robotics team will be there so it could be a party.


On the broader front, October was a slow but bright burn. It took a little while to find some traction but in the build-up to the Ubuntu 19.10 release, everything fell into place. As mentioned, November will start in Macau with ROSCon 2019. In fact, the team will be there when this blog goes out. And if the product guy is doing his job, there will be more content about it soon. What we want from November though is more from you. Developers, tinkerers, hackers and beyond. If there’s a project you are working on or that you think should be talked about, let us know. If its ROS and or robotics-related we’d love to hear about it and feature it next month. Send a summary to, and we’ll be in touch. Thanks for reading.

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