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European Space Robot Control Operating System

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ESROCOS (European Space Robot Control Operating System)

Reporting period: 2016-11-01 to 2019-01-31

The development of software for robotic systems has become easier with the emergence of Robot Control Operating Systems (RCOS), frameworks that support the development of robotics software. These frameworks usually provide a set of tools and models to support the development process, a set of ready-to-use components for common robotic functions, and a runtime environment that manages the system and communications during execution.

The experience at ESA has shown that robotic systems require significant software engineering effort when compared with other space missions, due to complexity and lack of software heritage and commonality. To mitigate this and develop robotics software in a more cost-effective manner, the usage of RCOS frameworks is a solution. However, existing frameworks are in general not suited for use in space applications, and lack the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS) characteristics required by space software.

Past efforts to develop a standard space robot control software at European level have succeeded in their immediate objectives but failed to get traction and to be adopted in operational missions. For this reason, it was decided to build ESROCOS as a software building block with the following characteristics:

- It is a space-oriented RCOS, considering the RAMS attributes and relevant hardware and communication protocols.
- It provides advanced modelling for robots and software, easing the development of correct-by-construction software.
- It leverages existing technologies, frameworks and tools.
- It includes mixed-criticality capabilities to address the needs of complex robotics applications.
- It is open-source software without dependencies on proprietary components.
- It has involved relevant members of the space robotics community in its definition.

The results have been evaluated through the development of robotics applications in three reference scenarios: in-orbit servicing of a satellite, a planetary exploration rover, and a nuclear robotics system.
The ESROCOS project has developed an open-source framework, or Robot Control Operating System (RCOS), for space robotics that integrates proven and new technologies, and validated it in three reference scenarios: in-orbit satellite servicing, planetary exploration rover and nuclear robotics.

The framework includes a set of tools that support different aspects of the development process, from architectural design to deployment and validation, and provides a set of core functions that are often used in robotics or space applications. ESROCOS is intended to support the development of software following the ECSS standards for space software. It does not cover all the development phases and verification steps, but it facilitates certain activities and ensures that the software built can be made compatible with the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS) requirements of critical systems.

The validation in the space reference scenarios took place in two test facilities provided by the FACILITATORS project: the BRIDGET rover and the Mars Yard at Airbus DS in Stevenage (UK), and the platform-art orbital simulation facility at GMV in Madrid (Spain). In addition, the nuclear reference scenario was implemented in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) robotics test facility at VTT in Tampere (Finland). The validation consisted in the production and testing of a set of robotics applications that exercise the different elements of ESROCOS, targeting a rover and two manipulator arms. The aim was not to build fully autonomous systems, but to demonstrate the software capabilities that will allow to do so in the future, in combination with the other building blocks that have been developed in concurrent projects.

The ESROCOS consortium has participated in many dissemination activities to promote the ESROCOS framework and its constituent technologies with the community, stakeholders and general public. The partners have produced several scientific publications and participated in events such as the ASTRA 2017 conference (where a workshop dedicated to ESROCOS was held) or the International Astronautic Conference (IAC) 2018.
The ESROCOS project has produced a framework to aid in the development of space robotics applications, which have specific needs in terms of Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS). To fulfil this purpose, the ESROCOS framework combines a set of characteristics in a novel way:

- It is built specifically for the needs of the space robotics community, with inputs from the community.
- It is provided under open-source licenses in order to facilitate its adoption.
- It integrates a Time and Space Partitioning hypervisor, which is proposed as a possible way to integrate non-deterministic algorithms in critical systems with real-time constraints.
- It relies on model-based and formal approaches, which are relevant for space and other critical application domains.
- It is compatible with existing, widely-used robotics frameworks.

ESROCOS integrates several existing tools and components, many of which have been improved in the context of the project. ESROCOS is the basis for a live ecosystem that will persist beyond the end of the project.

The project has improved existing tools such as the TASTE framework for model-based software development, the BIP tools for the analysis and validation of real-time software at behaviour level, and the AIR hypervisor for mixed criticality.

In addition, a new tool for modelling robot kinematics has been developed within ESROCOS. This is a first implementation of a new methodology for robotics software development advocating the use of high level models together with automatic code generation, forming a semantically complete specification of the software.

The availability of ESROCOS as open-source software is expected to enable adoption in the space robotics community, and other domains with similar RAMS requirements, in order to create a lively ecosystem of reusable components and tools. The experience in terrestrial robotics shows that such an ecosystem may lower the cost of developing novel robotics systems.

The architecture of ESROCOS provides a path from existing laboratory robotics applications to space-quality software systems. In addition, the open-source and modular solution facilitates the exploitation of the results by SMEs, which are very important in the European space industry.

The ESROCOS framework has been developed within the H2020 Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) on Space Robotics. It is one of the building blocks identified by the European space robotics roadmap, and it is closely aligned with the software engineering methods promoted by the ESA.

At a wider level, the ESROCOS project has also strived to communicate its goals and activities to the robotics community and the general public. By providing an open-source platform to develop new engaging projects, ESROCOS makes possible new robotic applications that may capture the imagination of the general public.
Architecture of the ESROCOS framework
Validation of ESROCOS in three reference scenarios