ROS is becoming the standard in robotics, not only for robotics research, but also for robotics companies that build and sell robots. In this article, I will offer a list of the top 10 worldwide robotics companies that base their robotics products on ROS.
This is the list of criteria I followed to select the winners:
- We are talking about robotics companies that build robots here. This is not about companies that produce some kind of software based in ROS, but companies that create and ship robots based in ROS. We do not consider companies that do consulting and generate solutions for a third party either.
- They have created the robots themselves. This means they are not re-sellers or distributors of robots made by somebody else.
- They have their robots natively running ROS. This means, you switch the robot on and it is running ROS. We are not taking into account robots that support ROS (if you install the packages). We concentrate on robots that run ROS off-the-shelf. For example, you can run ROS on a UR5 arm robot, but if you buy the UR5 robot, it will not come with ROS support off-the-shelf. You need to add an extra layer of work. We are not considering those robots.
- You can program the robots. Even if some companies provide ROS based robots (like, for example, Locus Robotics) they do not provide a way to program them. They provide the robots as a closed solution. We are not considering here closed solutions.
Summarizing, the criteria are: one, you can buy the robot directly from the company; two, the robot runs ROS from minute one; and three, you can program the robot at will.
Once the companies were selected based on the previous criteria, I had to decide the order. Order was based on my personal perception of the impact those companies are making in the ROS world. That is very subjective to my own experience, I know, but that is what it is. Whenever I felt it necessary, I described my motivation behind the position of the company on the list.
Now, having clarified all that, let’s go to the list!
Top 10 Robotics Companies
Clearpath is a Canadian company founded in 2009. The number of robots that they produce is amazing in the fields of Unmanned Ground Vehicles, Unmanned Surface Vehicles (water vehicles), and industrial vehicles. Their robots are based on ROS and can be programmed with ROS from minute one. That is why their robots are used in the creation of third-party applications for mining, survey, inspection, and agriculture or material handling.
Some of its most famous robots include Jackal UGV (you can learn how to program a Jackal robot for patrolling here), HuskyUGV, Heron USV, and their recently launched series of Otto robots for industrial environments.
As a matter of trustability, this company took the responsibility to provide the customer support to the existing PR2 robots, once Willow Garage closed its doors. Because of that, and because it is the company with the most varied ROS robots available, I put it in the well-deserved number 1 spot on the list.
I interviewed Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
Fetch Robotics was founded by Melonee Wise in 2014, after she was forced to close her previous pioneer company, Unbounded Robotics. We can say that Fetch has two lines of business: first, the line of mobile manipulators, which are mainly used for robotics research; then, a line of industrial robots where they sell fleets of robots ready to be deployed in a warehouse to help with the transport of materials. As I understand it, the first line of business is the only one that allows direct ROS programming, the second one being a closed product.
I did not select Fetch for number 2 because of its research line only. I selected it for the number 2 spot because Fetch was a pioneer in the creation of affordable mobile manipulators (with their Fetch robot). Up to the moment they released Fetch, there was no ROS based mobile manipulator on the market (sorry, Turtlebot 2 with a dynamixel arm doesn’t count as a mobile manipulator).
Recently, Fetch organized the FetchIt! challenge at ICRA 2019 (and our company, The Construct, was a partner contributing to the simulation of the event). At that event, participants had to program their Fetch to produce some pieces in a manufacturing room. You can check the results here.
Even if Fetch Robotics only produces two robots with the criteria above (the Fetch and Freight robots), they were the pioneers that opened the field of ROS based mobile manipulators. That is why they deserve the number 2 spot on this list.
I interviewed Melonee Wise, CEO of Fetch Robotics, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
3. Pal Robotics
Pal Robotics is a Spanish company based in Barcelona and created in 2004 . I especially love this company because I worked there for more than 7 years and many of my friends are there (I worked there from 2007 until 2014). But love is not the reason I put them in the third position. They have a well-deserved 3rd position because they are the only company in the world that builds and sells human-size humanoid robots. And not just a single type of humanoid, but three different types! The Reemrobot, Reem-C robot, and recently, the TALOS robot.
Pal also produces mobile manipulators similar to the Fetch ones. Their manipulators are called Tiago, and you can buy them for your research or applications on top (if you’re interested, you can learn how to program Tiago robots with ROS here, an online course that we created in collaboration with Pal Robotics).
We have recently released a simulation of their latest robot TALOS including the walking controllers. You can get it here.
I also interviewed Victor Lopez, main DevOps engineer of Pal Robotics, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
Robotnik is another Spanish company, based in Castellon and founded in 2002 . I call them the Spanish Clearpath. Really, they build as many ROS robots as the first company on this list. They create and design mobile manipulators, Unmanned Ground Vehicles of different types, and many types of mobile robots for industrial applications and logistics. They also are experts in personalizing your required ROS robot by integrating third party robotics parts into a final ROS based robot that meets your requirements. Finally, they are the people behind the ROS Components online shop, where you can buy components for your robots that are certified to be ROS supported off-the-shelf. For all this extensive activity in selling ROS robots, Robotnik deserves the fourth position on our list.
A couple of months ago, Robotnik sent us one of their Summit XL robots for experimenting and creating ROS training materials. We did use it extensively for our ROS Live Classes, showing how to program Robotinik robots using a cloud robotics platform. We also created a specific course to train people to program their Summit XL robot.
I interviewed Roberto Martinez, CEO of Robotnik, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
5. Yujin Robots
Yujin is a Korean company specializing in vacuum cleaning robots. However, their vacuum cleaning robots are not the reason they are on this list since they do not run ROS onboard. Instead, they are here because they are the official sellers of the Kobuki robot (that is the base system of the Turtlebot 2 robot). The Turtlebot 2 is the most famous ROS robot in the world, even more so than the PR2! Almost every one of us has learned with that robot, either in simulation or in real. Due to its low cost, it allows you to easily enter into the ROS world. If you have bought a Turtlebot 2 robot, it is very likely that the base was made by Yujin. We used Kobuki as the base of our robot Barista, and I use several of them at my ROS class at La Salle University.
Additionally, Yujin has developed another ROS robot for logistics that is called GoCart, a very interesting robot for logistics inside buildings (not for warehouses), where the robot can be used to send packages from one location in the building to another (including elevators on the path).
This is another Korean company that is making it big in the ROS world. Even if Robotis is well known for its Dynamixel servos, they are best known in the ROS world because of their Turtlebot 3 robot and Open manipulator, both presented as the next generation of the Turtlebot series. With the development of the Turtlebot 3, they brought the Turtlebot concept to another level, allowing people easier entry into ROS. Their manipulator is also very well integrated with the Turtlebot 3, so you can have a complete mobile manipulator for a few hundred dollars. Even easier, they have released open source for all the designs of both robots, so you can build the robots yourself.
Here are the designs of Turtlebot 3.
Here are the designs of Open Manipulator.
7. Shadow Robot
Shadow Robot is a British company based in London. This company is a pioneer in the development of humanoid robotic hands. To my knowledge, they are the only company in the world that sells that kind of robotic hand. Furthermore, their hands are ROS programmable off-the-shelf. Apart from hands, they also produce many other types of grippers for robots, which can be mounted on robotic arms to create complete grasping solutions. One of their solutions combined with third party robots was the Smart Grasping System released in 2016, combining a three fingers gripper with a UR5 robot (here is a simulation we created of the Smart Grasping System, in collaboration with Ugo Cupcic).
Just to justify their leadership in the field, Shadow Robot hands were selected by the OpenAI company to do their reinforcement learning experiments with robots that need to learn dexterity.
Husarion is a Polish company founded in 2013. It sells simple and compact autonomous mobile robots called ROSbots. The ROSbots are small, four-wheeled robots equipped with a lidar, camera, and a point cloud device. They are the perfect robot for learning ROS with a real robot, or for doing research and learning with a more compact robot than the Turtlebot 2. They also produce the Panther robot, which is more oriented to outdoor environments, but with the same purpose of research and learning.
What makes Husarion special from other companies selling ROS robots is the compactness of their robots and the Husarnet network they have created, which connects the robots through the cloud and has remote control over them.
I interviewed Dominik Novak, CEO of Husarion for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
Neobotix is a manufacturer of mobile robots, and robot systems in general. They have robots and manipulators for a wide range of industrial applications, especially in the sector of transporting material. Neobotix is a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, and they are the creators of the famous Care-O-Bot, many times used in the Robocup@Home competitions. However, as far as I know, the Care-O-Bot never reached the point of product (I mean, you can order 5 of them and get them delivered, running from minute one after unpacking).
They are concentrating at present on selling mobile bases, which can be customized with robotics arms, converting the whole system in a custom mobile manipulator. They also sell the mobile bases and the manipulators separately. Examples of mobile bases are their MP series of robots. On the mobile manipulators side, they have the MM series. All of them work off-the-shelf with ROS.Related content: [ROS Q&A] 098 – How to see if my ROS Publisher works using ROS Unit Testing
Even if their products are full products on their own, I see them more as components that we can use for building more complex robots, allowing us to save time creating all the parts. That is why I have decided to put it in the 9th position and not above the other products.
Gaitech is a Chinese company that is mainly dedicated to distributing ROS robots, and ROS products in general, in China from third party companies (from many of the companies on this list, including Fetch, Pal, and Robotnik, among others). However, they also have their own line of development in which they develop their own robots; for example, the Gapter drone, the only drone I’m aware of that works with ROS off-the-shelf.
Even if their robots are not very popular in the ROS circuit, I have included them here because at present, they are the only company in the world that is building ROS based drones (Erle Robotics did ROS based drones in the past, but as far as I know, they ceased that activity when they switched to Acutronic Robotics). Due to this lack of competition, I think they deserve the position number 10.
I interviewed May Zheng, VP of Marketing of Gaitech, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
The following is a shortlist of other companies building ROS robots that did not make it onto the list for certain reasons. They may be here next year!
Sony is a complete newcomer to the world of ROS robots, but it has entered through the big door. Last year (2018), they announced the release of the Aibo robot dog, which fully works on ROS. That was a big surprise to all of us, especially since Sony abandoned the Aibo project back in 2005.
Their robot could have put them onto the list above, except for the fact that the robot is still too new and can only be bought in the USA and Japan. Furthermore, the robot still has a very limited programming SDK (you can barely program it).
If you are interested in the inner workings of Aibo with ROS, have a look at the presentation by Tomoya Fujita, one of the engineers of the project, during the ROS Developers Conference 2019, where he explained about the communication mechanism between processes that they had to develop for ROS in order to reduce battery consumption in Aibo. Amazing stuff, fully compatible with ROS nodes and using the standard communication protocol!
This is a company based on selling simple mobile bases based on ROS for the development of third party solutions, or as they call it, robot applications. Their goal is to provide a solid mobile base, with navigation running off-the-shelf, on top of what you should build other solutions like telepresence, robo waiters, and so on. It is a young company with a good idea in mind, but still too close to already existing solutions like Neobotix or Robotnik. Let’s see next year how they have evolved.
I interviewed David Crawley, CEO of Ubiquity, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
3. Acutronic Robotics
They started building ROS based drones, but recently, they changed direction to produce Hardware ROS microchips. They produce the MARA robot, an industrial arm based on ROS2 on the H-ROS microchips. However, as far as I know, the MARA robot is not their main business, since they created it and sell it as an example of what can be done with H-ROS. That is why I decided not to include this company in the main top 10 list.
By the way, we also collaborated with Acutronic to create a series of videos about how to learn ROS2 using their MARA robot. Check them out here.
I interviewed Victor Mayoral, CEO of Acutronic, for the ROS Developers podcast. You can listen to the interview here.
Most of the ROS based robotics companies are based on wheeled robots. A few exceptions are the humanoid robots of Pal Robotics, the drones of Gaitech, the robotic hands from Shadow Robots, and the arm robots from Neobotix.
It’s very interesting that we see almost no drones and no robotic arms running ROS off-the-shelf, being as both of them are very basic types of robots. I know there are many robotic arm companies that provide ROS drivers for their robots and many packages for their control, like the aforementioned Universal Robots or Kinova, to name a couple. However, on the list, only Neobotix actually provides an off-the-shelf arm robot with their MM series. What I think is that there is a lot of market space there for new ROS based drones and robotic arms. Take note of that, entrepreneurs of the world!
Finally, I would like to conclude that I do not know all the ROS companies out there. Even if I have done my research to create this article, it may have happened that I forgot some company worth mentioning. Let me know if you know of or have a company that sells ROS robots and should be on this list, so I can update it and correct any mistakes.
Photo at the top of the article: Robot humanoid Reem-C. (Photo: PAL Robotics)