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Testing Autonomous Vehicles with Robot Operating System in Singapore

Image sources: singaporetech.edu.sg

As Singapore is increasingly facing urban mobility challenges, innovative mobility solutions such as Autonomous Vehicles (AV) can help us overcome the challenges. AVs provide many benefits, including fewer accidents due to human errors, optimal use of road space and the creation of new job roles.

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) students are testing an autonomous vehicle used in the Robot Operating System (ROS) lessons. While ROS is more commonly deployed as an advanced industry tool, it has been growing in popularity in other sectors as well. This prompted SIT to introduce ROS as a learning aid for students.

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.

SIT provided theoretical classes that are combined with one-hour practical lab sessions. Students learn robotics technology and how it can be used in robotic platforms and design. Second-year Mechatronics Systems and third-year Computer Engineering students can also take these classes 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.”

– Teo Boon Ping, Senior Professional Officer

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 the 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.

The Turtlebot3 Waffle Pi is a pint-sized, two-wheeled robot, or Waffles are used as a learning tool in place of an actual AV during the ROS lessons. The students like having hands-on experience, as they find that implementing a control loop on a physical system is quite different from designing one based on a theoretical model.

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, motorbike 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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