Unix Philosophy and the Real World: Control Software for Humanoid Robots

N. T. Dantam, K. Bøndergaard, M. A. Johansson, T. Furuholm, and L. E. Kavraki, “Unix Philosophy and the Real World: Control Software for Humanoid Robots,” Frontiers in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, vol. 3, Mar. 2016.


Robot software combines the challenges of general purpose and real-time software, requiring complex logic and bounded resource use. Physical safety, particularly for dynamic systems such as humanoid robots, depends on correct software. General purpose computation has converged on unix-like operating systems – standardized as POSIX, the Portable Operating System Interface – for devices from cellular phones to supercomputers. The modular, multi-process design typical of POSIX applications is effective for building complex and reliable software. Absent from POSIX, however, is an interproccess communication mechanism that prioritizes newer data as typically desired for control of physical systems. We address this need in the Ach communication library which provides suitable semantics and performance for real-time robot control. Although initially designed for humanoid robots, Ach has broader applicability to complex mechatronic devices – humanoid and otherwise – that require real-time coupling of sensors, control, planning, and actuation. The initial user space implementation of Ach was limited in the ability to receive data from multiple sources. We remove this limitation by implementing Ach as a Linux kernel module, enabling Ach’s high-performance and latest-message-favored semantics within conventional POSIX communication pipelines. We discuss how these POSIX interfaces and design principles apply to robot software, and we present a case study using the Ach kernel module for communication on the Baxter robot.

Publisher: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/frobt.2016.00006

PDF preprint: http://kavrakilab.org/publications/dantam2016unix.pdf