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Consideration of STEP or Collada for Describing the ROS Environment

Received some great notes from the recent developers’ meeting hosted by @Levi-Armstrong and I figured I would post them hear to drive a continued discussion.

From Levi…

The primary discussion was on what the format will be for describing ROS environment. The current supported candidates are SDF and URDF, but should we move toward an industry standard like STEP or collada. The recommendation was to get a ROS2 working group put together to select the next format going forward. It was also discussed what the effort would be to write converters for each of the major solid modeling software. This would help with determining if we should lean more toward and industry standard versus a custom format like SDF and URDF.

Thoughts on the idea of leveraging an existing industrial standard?
If this is maybe of interest, does this require setting up a ROS2 working group?
If so, how do we go about getting that group going and how do we ensure it stays active and the appropriate folks are involved?

Looking forward to feedback…

Matt R.

FYI… for what it is worth, other industrial standards groups are looking at aligning with URDF, so a middle ground, or synergy between the two is not out of the question…

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I’m glad this is being brought up, thank you!

I want to note that Collada is already somewhat supported in ROS via a conversion to URDF. But it only supports robot geometry, not whole environments. My point is that there is already long standing precedence for that format in our community.

Additionally, OpenRave runs on Collada, so it would be great to have that standard shared between ROS projects like MoveIt and Tesseract.

One downside to Collada, as has been discussed in many past threads on Collada vs URDF vs SDF, is that its a very messy format. But I don’t think that out weights its existing popularity in many other domains.

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One aspect to keep in mind is that various tools support various subsets of the collada standard. It might be confusing to end-users if your robot has no joints any more after changing some color in say sketchup. Same goes for STEP of course. Another point is that both standards are huge and complex so it might take some time to implement a sufficient subset and we might need a caching system/format for preprocessed STEP files.

I attended the developer meeting (and in fact suggested forming a ROS 2 working group around this topic), and I believe neither STEP nor Collada were being proposed as the only options.

Both formats have appeared on lists of candidates in the past, and of all candidates have the highest adoption in (traditional) industry (Collada is even an Industy 4.0 standard).

I believe this is the reason @mrobinson mentions them here.

If/when a working group is formed, all other options should (and will) be considered as well.

It might even be that in the end it turns out that writing export/import plugins for a nr of popular (solid) modelling tools to a non-industry-standard (but ROS community preferred) format is the best option. Depending on the effort involved (and the backing of such a proposal) it’s not even such a strange idea.

I would say this also goes for STEP and in fact many other “industry standard” standards. It’s a very unfortunate situation.

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