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Soon, fixing your robot will be as easy as fixing your car

Open-source hardware could democratize the future of robots.

DARPA Robotics Challenge Showcases Cutting Edge In Artificial Intelligence Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The Robot Operating System, better known as ROS, is an open-source operating system for robots. NASA uses it. Surgical robots are programmed with it. Industrial robots, like the kinds used to manufacture cars, rely on it.

Before ROS was available in 2007, robot applications were programmed in siloed environments, and it was harder for roboticists to collaborate. But with the introduction of a standard, open-source and free operating system, roboticists have been able to move more easily across projects and build on each other’s work.

Now there’s a hardware equivalent of the Robot Operating System: H-ROS. It’s a standardized hardware system for building robots with interoperable parts.

Think of the way cars work — interoperability in parts has democratized expertise in the industry. Mechanics understand the components and don’t necessarily rely on proprietary parts from the manufacturer to repair or soup up a car.

H-ROS was unveiled earlier this month at ROSCon, an annual meeting of roboticists who program with ROS. Developed in Spain by Erle Robotics, H-ROS was funded by a grant from U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, more commonly referred to as DARPA, the military program responsible for all kinds of landmark innovations in robotics, including Atlas, the bipedal robot that was developed in collaboration with Boston Dynamics.

The H-ROS components are divided into five categories: Cognition, sensing, actuation, communication and hybrid parts. The idea is that with H-ROS, the components are interoperable and reusable and can be made by various manufacturers. So if a robot breaks down at a factory, with H-ROS parts, an engineer can much more easily fix the robot and replace the part, rather than necessarily having to call the manufacturer.

While the hardware specs aren’t public yet, the inventors are in conversations with component manufacturers now.

If H-ROS does take off, it could seriously democratize the future of robotics.

Watch the full presentation on H-ROS here:

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