7580OS_Learning ROS for Robotics Programming - Second EditionAs it can be obvious by now given my posting frequency, writing is not something that comes easy to me, especially not in English, so this will definitely be a surprising post. In August, a couple of friends and I published a book about the Robot Operating System (ROS), a robotics framework which we’ve been using for a long time and which made the basis for the AVORA AUV software stack.

This is the second edition of the original Learning ROS for Robotics Programming, which was written by two of the same authors and also reviewed by one of the authors of the second edition. Unfortunately, as life would have it, I couldn’t be involved with the first edition, so I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to participate in this iteration.

This second edition improves upon the first by providing updated content, as the latest versions of ROS are significantly different to those used in the first edition. Be aware that even though the book was originally written to support ROS Hydro, we also provide support for Indigo and Jade in our GitHub repository. We have also improved in general the content of the existing chapters with up-to-date examples and better explanations. Finally, we have replaced the last chapter with two new chapters covering point clouds and robotic arms, which we consider to be a great addition to an already extensive book. The layout of this second edition is as follows:

  • Chapter 1 – Getting Started with ROS Hydro: as the name suggests, this first chapter goes through the installation process of ROS Hydro on Ubuntu, covering also the process of doing so in a VirtualBox virtual machine as well as on a Beaglebone Black.
  • Chapter 2 – ROS Architecture and Concepts: the second chapter covers most of the bits and pieces ROS is made of, including practical examples in which the user will learn how to create nodes and packages that interact with each other, as well as with the famous turtlesim.
  • Chapter 3 – Visualization and Debug Tools: there are many situations in software development where we have to deal with the unexpected, this chapter provides information as to how to use common debugging tools, as well as other tools provided by ROS, in order to debug and visualize our nodes, the data and the interactions between the different elements in our system.
  • Chapter 4 – Using Sensors and Actuators with ROS: a very important part of robotics is dealing with hardware, this chapter covers the usage of common and cheap sensors and actuators supported by ROS, as well as some others more complex, and not as cheap, such as the Kinect or laser rangefinders. Finally, this chapter will also cover how to use an Arduino with ROS to expand our hardware possibilities even further.
  • Chapter 5 – Computer Vision:  from connecting a USB or FireWire camera and publishing images to performing visual odometry with stereo cameras or RGBD sensors, passing through the image pipeline to perform corrections and transformations to our images, this chapter provides an overview of the computer vision tools provided by ROS and OpenCV.
  • Chapter 6 – Point Clouds: this chapter explores a different approach to 3D sensor data communication and processing by using the Point Cloud Library (PCL), which is a library tailored to 3D data (or point clouds) processing and it’s well integrated with the latest versions of ROS, providing message abstractions and other facilities.
  • Chapter 7 – 3D Modelling and Simulation: in many situations, working in robotics requires working without the robots themselves and in some others the amount of tests required to validate a system make it an impossibility to use the robot for that purpose, in those situations the best bet of the roboticist are simulations with accurate 3D models. Since simulations are an indispensable tool for any serious robotics project, this chapter covers the process from creating an accurate 3D model of our robot to simulating it and its environment with Gazebo.
  • Chapter 8 – The Navigation Stack – Robot Setups: this chapter introduces the navigation stack, which is an incredibly powerful set of tools provided by ROS to combine sensor and actuator information to navigate a robot through the world. This introduction goes through the basics of the navigation stack, explains how to understand and create our own transformations and covers odometry with the use of a laser rangefinder or Gazebo.
  • Chapter 9 – The Navigation Stack – Beyond Setups: as a continuation to the previous chapter and using all the concepts explained throughout the book, this chapter finalises the configuration of our robot to make full use of the navigation stack.
  • Chapter 10 – Manipulation with MoveIt!: the final chapter of the book covers the integration between ROS and MoveIt! which provides a set tools to control robotic arms in order to perform manipulation tasks such as grasping, picking and placing, or simple motion planning with inverse kinematics.

The authors of the book, which I consider amongst my best friends and most trusted colleagues, are Enrique Fernández, Ph.D. in Computer Engineering by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and currently working as a Senior Autonomy Engineer at Clearpath Robotics, Aaron Martínez, M.Sc. in Computer Engineering and co-founder of Subsea Mechatronics, Luis Sánchez, M.Sc. in Electronics and Telecommunications and also co-founder of Subsea Mechatronics, and of course yours truly, M.Sc. in Computer Science and Currently a Software Engineer at Dell SecureWorks (I know, unrelated to robotics).

Come on, stop talking and tell us where we can buy the book…

I know, I know, you’re an impatient bunch, right after this paragraph I’ve included a non-exhaustive list of places where the book is currently sold. If you’re not too sure yet, remember that Christmas is very close and books are always a great gift for friends and family, and who doesn’t want to have a grandma who programs robots* as a hobby instead of knitting?

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Packt Pub | Barnes&Noble | O’Reilly | Safari Books

We’d like to hear your opinions, so don’t forget to comment if you’ve already read the book or even if you haven’t, and spread the word!

* The authors do not claim this book can teach your grandma to program robots.
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One day, looking for cheap sensors on ebay, I found this interesting board which contained everything I was looking for. It basically consists of a 3-axis accelerometer (ADXL345), a 3-axis magnetometer (HMC5883L), a 3-axis gyroscope (L3G4200D) and a barometric pressure sensor (BMP085). My plan is to build an Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) (or maybe I should call it Attitude and heading reference system (AHRS)) and in the process learn how to interact and interpret the information all of this sensors provide. The fact is I have some experience using IMUs since I used one on my master thesis and another one on the Avora AUV, but the fact is they come preprogrammed and there is not much point in working with the raw sensor data unless you want to improve the measurement or give it another use.

For this project I am also using an Arduino Duemilanove, for that reason I wanted to call it ArduIMU, but there is already another project with the same name, so I will have to find another name (suggestions would be appreciated). Connecting the sensor board to the Arduino is pretty straightforward, every sensor has an I²C interface so you can access each of them using the Arduino Wire Library. The drawing was done using fritzing, on which I created the corresponding custom part for this board, although I did something wrong and it does not conform to the fritzing graphic standards.

This will be the first of a series of posts I plan to write about this project, since there are several steps I need to take in order to fully understand each sensor and several more to combine them in order to improve accuracy. In this post I want to talk about the accelerometer and how to obtain the roll and pitch angles from it, which is a process that can also be called tilt sensing.

Accelerometers are devices that are capable of measuring the acceleration they experience relative to free-fall,  the same acceleration living beings feel. As a consequence, accelerometers are incapable of measuring the acceleration of gravity, but can be used to measure the upwards acceleration that counters gravity when at rest. This acceleration is measured as 1g on the z-axis, when both pitch and roll angles are zero, but when the sensor is tilted either the x-axis or the y-axis experiences a component of the upward acceleration, whose magnitude depends on the tilt angle.

Pitch & Roll estimation

Obtaining the pitch and roll angles is then a matter of being able to read the accelerometer, convert these readings to the g unit (1g = 9.8 m/s²), and apply the corresponding equations. The process of obtaining and converting the accelerometer readings depends on the accelerometer you are using, in my case, the ADXL345 in its basic configuration, provides 10-bit resolution for ±2g, but has several other ranges (±2g, ±4g, ±8g, ±16g)  and resolutions (from 10 to 13 bits depending on the range) . Generalizing, the formula used to calculate the acceleration from the accelerometer readings is:

G_{Accel} = Raw_{Accel} \cdot \dfrac{Range}{2^{Resolution - 1}}

Once we have the correct acceleration components, we can proceed to calculate the different angles using the following equations:

pitch = \arctan{\left(\dfrac{G_y}{\sqrt{G_{x}^2 + G_{z}^2}}\right)}     roll =\arctan{\left( \dfrac{-G_x}{ G_{z}}\right)}

For more information about where these equations come from, you can read the documentation I include at the end of this post. As you can see, the denominator of the pitch equation is defined to be always positive, so the equation itself only provides [-90, 90] range, which is exactly what is expected for the pitch angle. In contrast, the roll equation provides [-180, 180] range. It is important to take into account that when the pitch angle is 90º, the surge axis (roll) is directly aligned with the gravity vector, thus we cannot measure the roll angle anymore, this is what is called Gimbal Lock.

Also, be aware that the roll equation is undefined when both G_x and G_z are equal to zero, and that for each possible value of the calculation done inside the arctan function there are two valid solutions, not only on the roll but also on the pitch equation. These problems can be easily solved in code by using the function atan2, which eliminates the angle calculation ambiguity by taking into account the quadrant.

Removing short-term fluctuations using a Low-Pass filter

At this point we already have a fully functional pitch & roll estimation system, but if we experiment with it we will discover that the readings fluctuate quite a bit and this may be very annoying for some applications. Removing these short-term fluctuations can be achieved by means of what is called a Low-Pass filter. This type of filter attenuates the higher frequencies of the signal, thus providing a smoother reading. The Low-Pass filter is easily implemented by using the following equation:

y_{t} = \alpha \cdot x_{t} + (1 - \alpha) \cdot y_{t - 1}

Where y_t is our filtered signal, y_{t-1} the previous filtered signal, x_t the accelerometer reading and \alpha the smoothing factor. It probably may seem obvious, but filtering should be done to the accelerometer readings before calculating the angles, instead of to the angles themselves. Regarding the smoothing factor, the lower we set it, the more it will take for the angle to stabilize, so we should not set it too low because then we could lose real-time behaviour. With this I mean that the reading will not correspond to the real angle until it stabilizes, and this could take some time.

The source code & the ADXL345 library

I developed a small library to interface with the accelerometer, even though at the moment I have only implemented the basic functionality, I plan on supporting all of the device features. You can find it in my github account, where you can also find the processing code I used for the video example below. Thanks to the library, the code is pretty straightforward. It just reads the sensor accelerations which are already converted into gs by the library, applies the Low-Pass filter and then uses the roll and pitch equations to calculate the angles.

#include
#include 

const float alpha = 0.5;

double fXg = 0;
double fYg = 0;
double fZg = 0;

ADXL345 acc;

void setup()
{
	acc.begin();
	Serial.begin(9600);
	delay(100);
}

void loop()
{
	double pitch, roll, Xg, Yg, Zg;
	acc.read(&Xg, &Yg, &Zg);

	//Low Pass Filter
	fXg = Xg * alpha + (fXg * (1.0 - alpha));
	fYg = Yg * alpha + (fYg * (1.0 - alpha));
	fZg = Zg * alpha + (fZg * (1.0 - alpha));

	//Roll & Pitch Equations
	roll  = (atan2(-fYg, fZg)*180.0)/M_PI;
	pitch = (atan2(fXg, sqrt(fYg*fYg + fZg*fZg))*180.0)/M_PI;

	Serial.print(pitch);
	Serial.print(":");
	Serial.println(roll);

	delay(10);
}

Links & References