The recent acquisition of Open Robotics’ commercial arm, OSRC, by Intrinsic has raised questions about the future of the popular open-source robotics project, ROS. Intrinsic aims to democratize access to robotics, and the acquisition was seen as a step in that direction. However, concerns have been raised due to Alphabet’s involvement and its history with open-source projects.
Open Robotics’ ROS is safe and well-supported following Intrinsic’s acquisition of OSRC. Intrinsic, as a separate entity, is committed to the open-source community and has dedicated resources to support the ROS ecosystem. The acquisition aims to democratize access to robotics and ensure the continued growth and research of the project.
The Intrinsic Acquisition: Clarifying What Was Bought
Intrinsic CEO, Wendy Tan White, explains that the acquisition only involved OSRC, leaving Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) unaffected and independent. This clarification addresses the mixed reception the acquisition received within the industry, as there was some confusion surrounding which parts were acquired.
The Potential Impact of Alphabet’s Involvement
Although having Alphabet’s financial support could potentially benefit the project, concerns have been raised about Google’s mixed results in both open source and robotics. While Android is a well-known open-source project, critics argue that certain aspects of it are not as open as they should be. Additionally, Google has made choices that some consider limiting the completeness of the operating system, such as removing core features like SMS and dialing apps.
In the field of robotics, Alphabet has had a somewhat checkered history, as outlined by Brian Gerkey, director of Open Robotics. Given this backdrop, the Open Robotics acquisition understandably raised eyebrows, considering its central role in numerous robotics projects.
The Safety of ROS and Commitment to Open Source
In light of concerns over potential layoffs at Alphabet, I asked Gerkey and White if ROS would remain safe under their stewardship. Gerkey expressed confidence in their ability to make it work and emphasized that the acquisition was crucial for the continued growth and research of the project. He stressed that it supported the open-source movement and safeguarded the tools on which the community relied.
White emphasized that Intrinsic is a separate entity and has its own level of protection. She acknowledged the layoff losses Intrinsic experienced earlier this year with the discontinuation of Everyday Robots. However, the decision to merge with Intrinsic was motivated by the need for a step change in development and a commitment to long-term support for open-source software.
Both Gerkey and White highlighted their dedication to the open-source community. They assured that investment in the community would continue, and Intrinsic would allocate more resources specifically for open source. They emphasized that the open-source model and a whole-ecosystem approach work effectively in the industry.
The Importance of Consideration in Open Sourcing
Gerkey emphasized that open-sourcing software requires careful consideration of the value it provides and the ability to support it effectively. The aim is to release tools that can be game changers and widely reusable, rather than being specific to a particular software stack.