(Nanowork News) It would be great to have robots that can help us do important things like assist with disaster recovery or monitor the environment. In the case of quadrupeds, robots that walk on four legs, their mobility requires many software components to work together seamlessly. It’s annoying when all your time is spent developing lower-level infrastructure instead of focusing on high-level behaviors.
Aaron Johnson’s Robomechanical Lab Opens in new window has experienced these frustrations first hand. His team often had to rely on simple models to conduct research because existing software solutions were not open source, did not offer a modular framework, and lacked end-to-end functionality.
An example of innovation born of necessity, Johnson, an associate professor of mechanical engineering Opens in new window, and his team designed their own locomotion software stack, Quad-SDK Opens in new window, a full-stack framework for agile quadrupedal locomotion. Many graduate students contributed to the development of the software over a period of two years, but it was time well spent. Their design can simplify the development process for roboticists everywhere, as it uses an open source license, which means that the software can be used and modified to the user’s liking.
Quad SDK comes ready to use, so researchers don’t have to worry about deploying the necessary tools and infrastructure; instead, they can get started with exciting behaviors and applications right away.
Unlike other options, Quad-SDK is also compatible with the Robot Operating System (ROS). ROS is a middleware, somewhere between hardware and software, that allows different parts of a system to talk to each other. For example, if a robot senses an obstacle in its path and needs to transfer information from its sensing module to its decision-making module, ROS makes that communication possible. Imagine an app that doesn’t use iOS or Android – it’s much easier when everything works together.
Locomotion is a multi-layered problem as team member and Ph.D. student Ardalan Tajbakhsh describes it. “To do anything meaningful to a robot, you have to make many components work together seamlessly.” Quad-SDK provides a framework for robotics researchers and developers to focus their efforts on the core algorithms rather than the software tooling and infrastructure.
Other software packages are very good at solving one component, such as motion planning, but it is critical to have end-to-end frameworks that provide the necessary algorithms, tools and infrastructure to conduct high-quality robotics research. Quad SDK is full-stack, meaning it contains every level of the hierarchy that affects four-legged locomotion, starting with global planning. This layer is at the top of the stack; Tajbakhsh compares it to Google Maps in that it chooses roughly where the robot needs to go to reach its destination. The next layer, the local planner, determines the details of the route, such as where the robot should place its feet. This culminates in a third tier, the robot driver, which sends commands to the four-legged friend’s joints to perform the desired movement.
In the weeks since Quad-SDK won a Best Paper Award (“Quad-SDK: Full Stack Software Framework for Agile Quadrupedal Locomotion” at the Workshop on Legged Robots at the 2022 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), people have already asked to use it, a clear indication of how useful the solutions are and how the open source format invites collaboration within the robotics community. Figuratively and literally, Quad-SDK can take many places.