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Case Studies – How Robotnik Trains Their Interns in ROS

Robotnik is a company that sells service robots and robot applications. Their main products include mobile bases of different types and mobile manipulators, all of them working under the ROS framework. As you may know, Robotnik engineers spend a lot of time developing ROS-based software. Sometimes, their engineers need to gather more knowledge about a specific ROS subject. Sometimes the team needs to incorporate more engineers with ROS knowledge. In order to speed things up, in July 2017, Robotnik decided to use Robot Ignite Academy to train their teams in ROS.

Objective

  • Upskill their exisiting robotics developers with the latest ROS topics
  • Train the new employees to learn ROS fast (especially the newly incorporated software engineers that have no prior knowledge of ROS).

Challenge

  • Systematically acquire ROS skills quickly, efficiently, and flexibly without affecting daily work.

Interview

Robotnik is a company that sells service robots and robot applications. Their main products include mobile bases of different types and mobile manipulators, all of them working under the ROS framework. They are also the creators of ROS Components, a shop that sells robot parts that are certified to work with ROS off-the-shelf (ROS plug-and-play).

As you may know, Robotnik engineers spend a lot of time developing ROS-based software. Sometimes, their engineers need to gather more knowledge about a specific ROS subject. Sometimes the team needs to incorporate more engineers with ROS knowledge.

In order to speed things up, in July 2017, Robotnik decided to use Robot Ignite Academy to train their teams in ROS, especially the newly incorporated engineers that had no prior knowledge of ROS.

We spoke to Román Navarro, CTO of the company, and Alex and David, the two latest interns, about their experience learning ROS fast using Robot Ignite Academy.

Q: How many people are you training on ROS at Robotnik?

ROMAN: At present, there are two people, the interns Alex and David. Our goal was that they learnt ROS very fast with a smooth learning curve, and, especially, that they did not take time from the other engineers while learning, so we do not waste our engineers' time teaching them and resolving their doubts. We thought that Robot Ignite Academy was the perfect tool for this purpose.

Q: Why did you decide to use the Robot Ignite Academy instead of using the many ROS tutorials that exist all over the net?

ROMAN: Internet ROS tutorials, in general, are an excellent material once you know what to look for. One of the drawbacks of those tutorials is that they are not structured like a progressive course, but instead, as a series of scattered materials, each one around a central concept. ROS tutorials are excellent tools for learning how a specific package or tool can be used, but it requires that you already know about ROS. If you don’t have prior knowledge of ROS, you may have a tough time understanding it.
ALEX: What happened to us is that once we learned at the Robot Ignite Academy how ROS works, we were able to go to the ROS official tutorials and clearly understand what they meant, and use them as a reference.

Q: Which courses have you taken at the Robot Ignite Academy?

ALEX and DAVIDROS Basics in 5 daysROS navigation in 5 days, and TF ROS 101.

Q: What is their purpose in learning ROS at Robotnik?

ROMAN: Alex and David are finishing their Computer Science degrees. We would like to incorporate them into our software department. And for that, it is essential that they know ROS, and I would say that they need to have a solid knowledge of it.

But did you know ROS beforehand?

ALEX and DAVID: No, we had no idea about it.

Q: And what do you think about the ROS learning curve?

ALEX: Well, we do not know about the experience of using the official tutorials because we went straight into the Academy. So, by using the Academy, we found the learning curve quite smooth. It was very helpful that the learning was structured step by step towards achieving a goal. Also, you cannot go to the next step unless you have done the exercises before because each step builds on the previous.
DAVIDThe videos available, besides the tutorials, help to clarify the concepts. In my case, sometimes I got stuck on some concepts explained in the text. Then I switched to the videos and found them easier to understand.
ROMAN: Additionally, we found that the courses of the Academy are very interesting not only for beginners, but also for proficient ROS engineers. Sometimes we have one of our expert engineers that needs to refresh some concepts or needs to learn an advanced subject that he did not already know. For that purpose, the Ignite courses were very useful.

Q:What was your training schedule?

DAVID: Well, we started in the morning and continued through the day trying to follow the schedule you propose in the Academy. By dedicating full days to training, we completed the ROS Basics in 5 days and the ROS Navigation in 5 days, in a little bit more than two weeks. By that time, we were able to start jobs at Robotnik, creating and modifying ROS packages.
ROMAN: Yes that is right because after those two weeks, we were able to send them work. At the end, with less time, we obtained better results than reading books or tutorials. The Academy approach is a more dynamic way of learning because you combine the tutorials with the environment to develop and test the programs, and everything is online. This makes a fast learning experience because you can practice and see results on the spot.

Q: Have you applied what you learned to real work?

ALEX: We created a package to control an arm robot based on Dynamixel servos. We worked on how to set them up and how to control the servos through par control.
DAVID: We also changed the information published through Diagnostics and changed it to be published into topics for easier use by other nodes later on.
ROMAN: Since they are beginners, we are putting them more in the configuration side now, and in contact with the hardware and the electronics. ROS is only one part of the robotics picture (the programming side) and we need them to know them all.

Q: What was the thing you liked the most from this type of training?

ALEX: In each chapter, you show at the beginning what one will be able to do at the end of the chapter. Then you teach step-by-step how, and by the end, we are able to do it and see the results on the simulated robot. This motivates us a lot to continue and try to do the next chapter.
DAVID: I liked the step-by-step guide to get the robot to do something. The course is very well guided, so we do not get lost in the wild of the full scope of ROS.

Q: What did you like the least?

ALEX: Well, the TF course was a little difficult to follow. We do not know what exactly it was, but we found it complex.
DAVID: For the exercises that you propose, since you do not provide the solution in order for us to find it, you may want to include some buttons that provide help when the student is stuck. This button can show hints, based on the recurrent questions that you may always have related to those exercises.

ROBOT IGNITE ACADEMY: That is actually a very good idea! We are definitely going to implement that in the platform!

Thanks a lot for your time Roman, David, and Alex. We wish you 14 more years of successful service robots based on ROS.

And in case you are a company that needs to have people trained in ROS, try Robot Ignite Academy. No installation required. Any type of computer. Step by step online tutorials with simulation and development environment integrated. Give it a try and let us know what you think. This is, at present, the fastest and easiest way to learn ROS.

ROMÁN NAVARRO

CTO
Robotnik
With less time, we obtained better results than reading books or tutorials. This is a more dynamic way of learning because The Construct combines the tutorials with the environment to develop and test the programs, and everything is online.

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