[Fedora Robotics] F15 blog post

Rich Mattes richmattes at gmail.com
Mon May 23 19:08:27 UTC 2011

Hi all,

I'm planning on publishing a blog post to fedora planet that goes into more
detail explaining the f15 robotics suite.  I'm sending what I have so far,
if you have a chance to look it over and add/clarify anything i missed, I'd
appreciate it.  I'd like to get it published before release day.




With Fedora 15's release imminent, I'd like to take the time to talk about
the Robotics Suite feature.  As some of you may have noticed, the Fedora
Robotics Suite is new for Fedora 15, and it is already showing up as a
bullet point in many reviews of the Fedora 15 alpha and beta releases.  It's
clear that very few people actually know what we're trying to accomplish
with this feature, so I'll do my best to explain our motivations.  The
Fedora 15 release notes have this to say:

Fedora 15 now includes the Robotics Suite, a collection of packages that
provides a usable out-of-the-box robotics development and simulation
environment. This ever-growing suite features up-to-date robotics
frameworks, simulation environments, utility libraries, and device support,
and consolidates them into an easy-to-install package group. Visit
http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Robotics for more details.

In a nutshell, the Fedora Robotics SIG has been working hard over the past
few releases to create a fast and easy way to dive into robotics
development, for newbies and seasoned developers alike.  The first visibile
of this effort is the Fedora Robotics Suite, a package group that brings
together many different robotics related libraries to make it as easy as
possible for developers to use Fedora in their robotics projects.

Why is the suite needed?

The open-source robotics scene is diverse, consisting of vast amounts of
independent libraries and frameworks that can be used for all kinds of
robotics tasks.  Unfortunately, the robotics develpment community is small
enough that even some of the largest and most well-known software packages
are still "niche" packages in the scope of a large linux distribution, often
with only a handful of developers upstream. These factors add up to several
problems that the Robotics Suite aims to alleviate:

   - *Software is difficult to configure and install*.  This is mostly a
   problem for users who aren't familiar with Linux development and are diving
   in headfirst.  If the configuration and installation process for a software
   component is complex, or the process isn't well documented, new users can be
   put off by the hurdle of getting their software environment set up, long
   before any development can take place.  Our goal is to streamline the
   process by doing the hard work for you.
   - *Software has too many dependencies*.  Many robotics-related programs
   have criticical dependencies on small or fledgling libraries that otherwise
   have no use to the linux community in general.  For example, the Point Cloud
   Library (currently under review) depends on the cminpack, flann, and eigen3
   libraries.  We want to make sure all of these are available with Fedora to
   spare the users the time-consuming process of finding, building, and
   deploying all of these small dependencies.
   - *Software doesn't install properly with Fedora's system libraries*.
   Fedora leads the way in software versions with the latest and greatest
   packages from upstream.  Often, developers of these packages are only
   testing their packages against the set of libraries on their own machine,
   and may be oblivious to build errors resulting from updated system
   libraries.  The Robotics SIG encounters these errors during packaging and
   updates, and works with upstream to correct the issues.

What's in the Suite?

As noted at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Robotics, the Robotics Suite
currently includes several large-scale robotics frameworks and simulators,
including Fawkes, Player, Stage, and the RoboCup Soccer Simulator.  The
Robotics Suite also consists of many specialized libraries like libphidget
and libkni thatinteract with robot sensors and devices, libraries like mrpt
and openni that implement specialized algorithms for things like motion
planning and image processing, and IDEs like Eclipse and Arduino to make
code development easier.

Future Plans
The Robotics Suite is a big milestone for the Robotics SIG, but we've got
plenty of grand plans for future Fedora releases.  We'd like to create an
official Robotics Spin for future releases to make it even easier to sample
and use the Robotics Suite, in the home or the classroom, without having to
install Fedora outright.  We are also sponsoring a Google Summer of Code
student to create educational robotics software for new users that takes
advantage of the packages available in the Robotics Suite.
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