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Sunday
Apr262015

RoSy outlook for distributed autonomy within systems

I feel I must be one of the last people to discover the open source Robotic Operating Systems (RoS). RoS is more of a framework than an operating system. The framework could be atop any operating system. In practice, for now, it is on Linux. (There are some interesting DotNet / Mono extensions, but those appear incomplete). ROS is providing the base for open source robotics, and the effect of robotics on all our lives will expand because of it.

RoS engages my imagination because it is inherently distributed. “Service Oriented Robotics” as a phrase that is used. Replacing the step-by-step commands that have ruled robotic manufacturing, ROS developers aim at tasks such as “Go upstairs, go to my room, find my stapler on my desk, and bring it back”. This must be decoupled into applications for climbing stairs, navigating a floor plan, identifying a stapler, and picking that stapler up.

Just as smart energy looks to fractal dis-assembling of power grids, RoS looks to fractal dis-assembly of robotic tasks. There are multiple ROS services for a robotic hand, decoupling the technology and the mechanics from the request. As ROS-capable systems get smaller and cheaper, there will likely be RoS applications for each knuckle on a hand. A RoS-enabled knuckle can more easily incorporate advanced features such as haptic feedback leading to a “gentle touch”. Gentle touch and heavy lifting can be different limbs responding to the same command.

Robotics is outside of my wheel-house. Service enabling of the internet of things is in. Service oriented energy is in. Fractal microgrids as described by the Galvin Initiative seem natural, and they will have their decision-making local, where they can respond to the needs of site, and the owner, and the situation.

Robotics started out with fixed activities under direct control. In the larger systems, one can still see the single control even as they grow more autonomous. The future is distributed service oriented robotics. In the same way smart grids started with planned sequence to control transmission. It evolved into fixed sequences to control energy consumption, centrally operated, by OpenADR and by EnerNOC and by Constellation. It is slowly evolving into centrally orchestrated DR services.

Even Microgrids are often simply the old architecture, and the old protocols, but just a little bit of isolation. Duke is pushing microgrids barely distinguishable from their distribution networks. Oncor salutes service orientation while extending the old technologies. The real advances are among those building those “smart hands”, autonomous microgrids that make their own decisions and technology choices. >Eventually, just as in the smart knuckles, the same service orientations will arrive in the end appliances and systems of the end nodes.

When I was young, in my Dinosaur age, I was fascinated by the Stegosaurus, and its hind-brain bigger than its fore-brain. That was settled science then, although controversial now. I enjoyed imagining a slow placid creature able to defend itself with some nimble, precise tail-bludgeoning.

The microgrids of the future will leverage distributed energy and local storage to for some precise tail-bludgeoning in the smart building—the far away head will not even be sure what is going on.

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