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P. Fitzpatrick, G. Metta, and L. Natale (2007)

Towards long-lived robot genes

Journal of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 56:1-3.

Robot projects are often evolutionary dead ends, with the software and hardware they produce disappearing without trace afterwards. Common causes include dependencies on uncommon or obsolete devices or libraries, and dispersion of an already small group of users. In humanoid robotics, a small field with an avid appetite for novel devices, we experience a great deal of ``churn'' of this nature. In this paper, we explore how best to connect our software with the mainstream, so that it can be more stable and long-lasting, without compromising our ability to constantly change our sensors, actuators, processors, and networks. We also look at how to encourage the propagation and evolution of hardware designs, so that we can start to build up a ``gene-pool'' of material to draw upon for new projects. We advance on two fronts, software and hardware. Building on our robot software architecture YARP [11], we focus on how to organize communication between sensors, processors, and actuators so that loose coupling is encouraged, making gradual system evolution much easier. We develop a model of communication that is transport-neutral, so that data flow is decoupled from the details of the underlying networks and protocols in use (allowing several to be used simultaneously, key to smooth evolution). We develop a methodology for interfacing with devices (sensors, actuators, etc.) that again encourages loose coupling and can make changes in devices less disruptive. At the same time, we are concerned with the problem of incompatible architectures and frameworks, and discuss how we work around this. We emphasize the strategic utility of the Free Software social contract [15] to software development for small communities with idiosyncratic requirements. We also work to expand our community by releasing the design of our ICub humanoid [23] under a free and open license, and funding development using this platform.
Humanoid Robotics; Free Software; Device Drivers; ICub Humanoid; YARP
Relevant for: WP7 integration. On Yarp, a software to intefrac the iCub robot middleware and also the robot simulator: a tool chosen for the integration goals of the IM-CLeVeR project.