Open RMF

What is the Open Robotics Middleware Framework (Open RMF)?

The Open Robotics Middleware Framework, or Open RMF for short, is a free, open-source tool for sharing information and enabling interoperability for fleets of robots and the physical infrastructures they navigate. This set of standardized communication protocols and interfaces facilitates sharing data, control signals, and additional information between robots, sensors, actuators, and other devices.

The Framework

The Open RMF framework is an extension of the open-source robot operating system (ROS). In 2012 the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) was established as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation to develop an open-source ROS. In 2016 and 2018, two for-profit arms were launched to facilitate collaboration and provide a funding source for OSRF’s activities. Collectively, the three entities were referred to as Open Robotics. 

In December 2022, Intrinsic, an Alphabet company that came out of the incubator X (also known as the “moonshot” division), acquired the two for-profit arms. The OSRF nonprofit retains all the open standards.

Changi General Hospital in Singapore had a problem. The hospital was a global leader in the adoption of robots in a healthcare setting. This makes sense as the IFR’s World Robotics 2022 research indicates Singapore has the second highest robot density with 670 robots for every 10,000 human workers. The problem at Changi General Hospital, however, was when a laundry robot, for example, crossed paths with a robot taking patient trays back to the kitchen. Both robots would freeze, waiting for the other to move first until human workers broke the impasse by physically moving one of the robots. 

Changi General Hospital collaborated with OSRF engineers and Open RMF was born to enable robots to navigate consistently around each other and with other parts of the building like automated doors, elevators, and crowded hallways. Open RMF was launched in October 2021 and today is used beyond the healthcare space in offices, warehouses, fields, airports, seaports, shopping malls, and factories.

Able to monitor and control an entire fleet of robots from a centralized panel, users can now scale up effectively, transitioning from wrangling a bunch of robots to approaching robot operations as a proactive business function.

Benefits of using Open RMF

Robot manufacturers and software providers make their wares more attractive by including support for Open RMF. This gives customers and users more control over how they use and deploy robots in concert with each other and their surroundings. Other benefits of Open RMF include: 

  • Interoperability in a heterogeneous environment. Robots from different manufacturers can communicate and work together seamlessly, reducing the need for complex custom solutions.
  • More flexible. The open-source nature of Open RMF allows all products utilizing Open RMF to work together. This gives customers more choices about how to design their robot solution.
  • More scalable. Open RMF allows sites to scale up their robot usage as quickly as desired because there isn’t extensive custom integration needed every time a new type of robot is added to the team. 
  • Free and open source. Customers are not locked into a proprietary platform requiring ongoing fees.

How the autonomous farm robot, Burro, went to market and scaled in a single step.

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