Choosing the right operating system for a robot – Things to remember


To ensure the development of a sustainable, future-proof, and secure robot, every manufacturer should make the most important decision right, i.e., the robot’s operating system.

The robot operating system offers libraries and tools to assist software developers in developing robot applications. Device drivers, libraries, visualizers, message-passing, package management, and other features are included. It also includes hardware abstraction.

Unfortunately, this importance is not always obvious until the company is too invested in changing it, leading to a slew of delays or issues to overcome. The operating system perfect for hacking things together may be impossible to maintain once the robot reaches production.

Similarly, the build-your-own option means maintaining the entire operating system (backporting upstream security updates, etc.) for the robot’s lifetime. The rock-solid, stable option may have versions of dependencies that are too old to use.

With all the choices available, which considerations are needed to ensure the best is selected? This article will discuss several key considerations for choosing the best operating system for a robot.

1. Software stack compatibility

A recipe for disaster is choosing an operating system incompatible with the necessary technology (libraries, frameworks, etc.). The implementation and testing of algorithms are made simple by their compatibility with programs like ROS and OpenCV. This can also assist the engineering team in streamlining the robot’s development and bringing it to market faster than rivals.

2. Hardware compatibility

Similar to software compatibility, hardware compatibility should also be a top priority because it will take a lot of time to get all the parts to work together before the robot can move forward. For instance, working with vendors with little experience with Linux or finding hardware that only supports drivers created for a few Linux distributions is commonplace.

3. Ease of system integration

Robots are rarely standalone devices; instead, they frequently require seamless communication with other devices. Off-device computation is becoming more popular in robotics, even if the other device is as straightforward as a digital twin for hardware-in-the-loop testing. All three use cases—cloud robotics, speech recognition, and machine learning—can benefit from data processing on a server farm instead of a robot with limited resources. It makes sense to use the same operating system on the robot and in the cloud, if possible. It keeps processes consistent and prevents domain knowledge from being divided, which cuts down on time needed to develop both the client and server components.

4. Support availability

Solving problems is one of engineering’s many rewards. Every engineer, however, reaches a point where they require assistance. They frequently turn to the community surrounding that distribution, where others are having similar problems, for assistance if they need it with the operating system. As a result, community support is crucial when selecting an operating system.