Teams competing in the European Robotics League Service Robots (ERL-SR) competition can now test their ideas for the first time on an open-source simulation of the competition arena, developed by the SocRob@Home team in Portugal.
The Gazebo ERL-SR arena simulation environment offers ERL teams many benefits, including the ability to easily run repeatable debugging tests and the ability of students to work in parallel when the simulator is installed on all their computers, without waiting for a physical robot to become available.
PhD student Óscar Lima, the SocRob@Home team leader, said that the simulator also allows teams to test their algorithms during an ERL competition, even when the testbed is full of other teams carrying out testing at the same time.
He added that using the simulator means that students do not have to worry about charging the batteries of their robot, wearing out the expensive hardware or even damaging it. "You can make as many collisions as you like; in fact, it is fun to make the robot collide in simulation." You can also forget about emergency buttons. "It is super fun to use it!" Teams will also appreciate that the simulator will save them time, as it does not require the addition of network protocols to their robot or the need to handle network issues. The simulator, does, however need to be installed on a powerful PC, preferably with a graphics card.
Rodrigo Ventura, the SocRob@Home team coordinator and professor at the Institute for Systems and Robotics (ISR) at Instituto Superior Técnico of the University of Lisbon, began work on the simulator about four years ago. In May 2017, Parth Chopra, an ISR intern student from India, brought the project back to life. SocRob@Home’s team leader Lima then spent a lot of time adding texture to the arena furniture and re-doing the walls based on a real map collected by a real robot.
SocRob said that the simulator was the first of its kind, as it was developed to match exactly the physical ERL-SR testbed (http://welcome.isr.tecnico.ulisboa.pt/isrobonet/) in the ISR lab. Other ERL-SR testbeds have different furniture arrangements. "We are not aware of another ERL testbed publicly available as a Gazebo 7 open source project," said Lima.
Until now, ERL-SR simulator options have included the cob Gazebo apartment from Fraunhofer IPA (http://wiki.ros.org/cob_gazebo_worlds) or from Willow Garage worlds (http://wiki.ros.org/agvs_sim/tutorials).
The SocRob open-source simulation package and installation instructions are available for use by all ERL-SR teams on the software coding website GitHub. It is not a robot simulation; teams still need to code their own robot simulation, perhaps using the many examples available on the web.
The package has been tested on Ubuntu 16.04, ROS kinetic and Gazebo 7. The developers are keen to receive feedback to improve the documentation and bug reports. They would welcome pull requests that enhance the functionality of the environment.
SocRob is also in the process of developing a simulation for its mBot robot on the Ridgeback robot from Rethink Robotics.
Gazebo ERL-SR arena simulation environment
The package is available here: https://github.com/socrob/mbot_simulation_environments
Installation instructions are available here: https://github.com/socrob/mbot_simulation_environments/blob/kinetic/README.md
Instituto de Sistemas e Robotica, Instituto Superior Tecnico — Torre Norte
Notes for editors
The European Robotics League is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement n° 688441.
It is part of the SPARC public-private partnership set up by the European Commission and euRobotics to extend Europe’s leadership in civilian robotics. SPARC’s €700 million of funding from the Commission in 2014̶20 is being combined with €1.4 billion of funding from European industry. www.eu-robotics.net/sparc
euRobotics is a European Commission-funded non-profit organisation which promotes robotics research and innovation for the benefit of Europe's economy and society. It is based in Brussels and has more than 250 member organisations. www.eu-robotics.net