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Arm-based robotics module and gripper bot run RT Linux and ROS 2.0

Sep 26, 2018 — by Eric Brown — 878 views

Acutronic Robotics has launched an Arm-based “H-ROS” module that runs real-time Linux and ROS 2.0 and is designed for modular development of robotic components. It also demo’d a “MARA” robotic arm based on H-ROS.

Two years ago, Zurich, Switzerland based Acutronic Robotics acquired Erle Robotics, the Basque, Spain based manufacturers of open source, Linux-driven robots and robot control boards that run the Robot Operating System (ROS). Now, with a major investment by Sony, the company has brought Erle’s DARPA-funded H-ROS robot control board to market. This weekend (Sep. 29-30) at ROSCON 2018 and next week (Oct. 1-5) at IROS 2018, both in Madrid, the company will show off the ROS 2.0-compatible H-ROS computer-on-module, as well as a robotic arm called MARA that runs on it. The company is also prepping a drone autopilot board based on H-ROS.

H-ROS (left) and MARA
(click images to enlarge)

Former Erle Robotics leader Victor Mayoral is CEO of Acutronic Robotics, which continues to operate Erle Robotics as a Bilbao based subsidiary. Erle Robotics is known for robots such as the Erle-Spider and drones like the Erle-Copter. Its bots and drones are controlled by the BeagleBone based Erle-Brain and Raspberry Pi based Erle-Brain 2 control boards, which run an Ubuntu/ROS stack with Dronecode/APM/Pixhawk compatibility. In early 2016, Erle Robotics introduced the PXFmini Raspberry Pi Zero add-on for drone control. These and other products, including an Erle-Brain 3, are still available on the Erle Robotics site.


While Erle Robotics’ products are primarily aimed at the hobbyist hacker community, Acutronic Robotics and its H-ROS (Hardware Robot Operating System) module are targeting the industrial robot market. Other applications include service and professional robots, modular robots, and automotive systems.

The H-ROS can act as the sole robot control board, but it’s primarily designed to operate single components that work collaboratively with other H-ROS driven components in complex robotics systems.

“Acting from within each robot component, the SoM enormously simplifies the process of integrating robot parts, reducing the cost and time to market,” states the H-ROS announcement. The module can be integrated with existing robotics components offered by a variety of vendors to make them “ROS-native” so they “speak the same language,” says the company. “This will break with the current lock-in in the robotics field and lead to a competitive landscape.”

Unlike the Erle Robotics products, we saw no open hardware claims for H-ROS or MARA. The company is pushing the H-ROS as a basic building block for “vendor agnostic” ROS-based hardware, and is promoting the module’s middleware, called HRIM (Hardware Robotic Information Model). Acutronic Robotics is sharing the HRIM middleware with selected robotics manufacturing partners and has proposed it to standards organizations such as ISO 299 and OMG.

HRIM middleware diagram (left) and HRIM middleware with highlighted AI API extensions
(click images to enlarge)

HRIM, which is an extension of the ROS middleware, defines the semantics between different ROS-compatible devices. It also includes individual policy rules that “ensure that modules meet their specifications and don’t compromise the network,” says the company. HRIM also enables an AI-powered API that is available on the H-ROS.

Inside the H-ROS module

The H-ROS module runs an unnamed Linux-based RTOS with a real-time enhanced ROS 2.0 (“Bouncy Bolson”) stack on an unnamed dual-core Cortex-A9 SoC. The SoC is clocked to 667MHz, 766MHz, or 866MHz, depending on the selected model, and offers 32KB L1 and 512KB L2 caches, as well as 256KB on-chip RAM.

H-ROS detail view
(click image to enlarge)

The 53.3 x 43.4 x 14mm H-ROS is equipped with 1GB DDR3-1066 RAM, 128Mb primary boot flash, and 8GB eMMC flash. It also features Precision Clock Synchronization via IEEE 1588-2002 (PTP) and a cryptography chip and security stack co-developed with Alias Robotics.

The H-ROS integrates dual GbE controllers with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) support and offers an onboard 9-axis IMU and a 12-bit, 4-channel ADC interface. Other available I/O includes 2x CAN, 2X UARTs, a variety of GPIOs, and single I2C, SPI, reset I/O, JTAG, and a debug UART interfaces. The module can also be “extended to interface with USB, EtherCAT, Modbus, Profinet and others, upon request.”

The H-ROS has a 5V input, LDOs, power and feeding voltage measurement systems, and an “integrated hardware lifecycle.” Dual LEDs are available along with a heat dissipation case. Commercial (0 to 70°C) and industrial (-40 to 85°C) ranges are available.

The H-ROS and its HRIM stack are designed to work collaboratively with other H-ROS driven components, providing distributed sub-microsecond clock synchronization accuracy that can achieve as little as 1-millisecond sync in controlled environments. Communications latencies are below 2ms in controlled environments even when faced with network traffic bursts of 900Mbps, claims the company. The real-time Linux stack is extended with the UDP protocol for real-time communications.

H-ROS architecture (left) and networking stack in real-time Linux distro
(click images to enlarge)

The H-ROS firmware supports a variety of different redundant network architectures. You can use it to reserve bandwidth for high-priority traffic and apply bandwidth allocation. OTA updates are also available.

The stack supports ROS 2.0 features such as selectively switching components on or off, limiting power consumption, and generating notifications. It also offers simplified maintenance prediction and robot hardware comparisons.

MARA robotic arm and HANS D-motor

The MARA (Modular Articulated Robotic Arm) is billed as the “first M-cobot (modular cobot) with ROS 2.0 running into each actuator, sensor or other robot component.” Cobot is a term that describes collaborative, typically dexterous gripper robots such as Rethink Robotics’ Sawyer or the Fetch Robotics line of similarly Linux/ROS driven warehouse bots that are designed to operate safely in collaboration with human workers.

Controlled by the embedded H-ROS module, the “plug-and-play” MARA can be physically extended to adapt to specific automation applications that require dexterity and flexibility. You can choose from different bases including the default 6 DoF (degrees of freedom) design. There are also a variety of options for grippers, end-effectors, torque sensors, external safety cameras, and safety-enabling modules.

HANS D-motor actuator (left) and exploded view

The H-ROS is built into the MARA robot’s HANS D-motor actuator, which appears to be separately available. This industrial-grade 2 DoF electrical motor integrates encoders and an electro-mechanical breaking system. Operating as an EtherCAT slave, the HANS D-motor is available with a variety of different torque/size combinations.

HANS D-motor actuator detail view
(click image to enlarge)

Further information

The H-ROS module is available now at an undisclosed price, and the MARA robotic arm will go on pre-order soon. An H-ROS based autopilot is said to be “coming soon.” More information may be found at the Acutronic Robotics H-ROS product page.

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