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Testing Autonomous Vehicles with Robot Operating System in Singapore

Image credits: singaporetech.edu.sg

An autonomous vehicle (AV) glides along a road at low speed, its movement seemingly independent. It gradually accelerates, while cameras and sensors installed around it are primed to signal alerts when obstacles are nearby.

A one-stop command centre called a Robot Operating System (ROS) dictates the AV’s movements. The ROS is a collection of tools and libraries which simplifies the task of designing, testing and implementing complex and robust robotics applications. As a middleware, it enables connectivity between multiple front and back end applications. In this case, it allows engineers to send ‘messages’ to the AV to toggle parameters like speed, camera angle and range of sensors.

While ROS is more commonly deployed as an advanced industry tool, students at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) have been getting their feet wet by operating the software. With robots becoming increasingly commonplace in healthcare, manufacturing, food preparation and the military, ROS has also been growing in popularity. This prompted SIT to introduce ROS as a learning aid for students.

Theoretical classes are combined with one-hour practical lab sessions, which familiarise students with robotics technology and how it can be used in robotic platforms and design. The classes also better prepare second-year Mechatronics Systems and third-year Computer Engineering students for advanced subjects in university, and when they enter the workforce.

We use ROS to spark students’ interest in robot applications, as well as broaden their understanding of electronic components and how complex robotic systems work. There is a high demand for engineers who can develop ROS applications, so we want to encourage students to discover more about the real-world applications of the software.

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The hands-on approach involves designing complex systems using simulations, then implementing them on an actual robot or electric AV. Students first explore the simulation platform enabled through ROS, where they can synchronise different sensors, motors and cameras to enable functionalities such as mapping, localisation, navigation and visualisation. Once simulated testing is completed, students deploy the actual action on the robot or AV.

One lesson would entail students testing how camera visuals will appear indoor and the effect on camera visibility. In another class on motors, students would change code on the command to control the speed of the motor. Build up an understanding of robotics-related hardware takes an entire trimester.

Once students have a firm grasp of what makes up a robotics system, they will then embark on a one-and-a-half-hour lab session during their final class to learn how ROS glues everything together. The challenge in using ROS is being able to have an overview of the entire platform and how it can be used to design a product, instead of getting caught up in individual components.

As reported by OpenGov Asia, Robots have the potential to transform policing in the same way that they will change healthcare, manufacturing and the military. It is plausible that some police robots in the future will be artificially intelligent machines capable of using legitimate coercive force against humans. Police robots may reduce the risks to officers by removing them from potentially dangerous situations. Those suspected of committing crimes may also face less harm if robots can help police conduct safer detentions, arrests and searches.

To address this, two robots will be patrolling the Toa Payoh Central neighbourhood in Singapore as part of a three-week trial as of 5 September, looking for errant smokers, unlicensed hawkers, motorbikes and e-scooter riders on sidewalks and gatherings that exceed the current group size limits.

The robots are designed to alert public officers in real-time to these offences since they will be equipped with cameras that have a 360-degree field of vision and can see in the dark. They will also be able to broadcast and show warnings warning people about the dangers of such behaviour.

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