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ROSCon 2018 Program Published

The ROSCon Organizing Committee is happy to announce the ROSCon 2018 Program has been published on the main ROSCon website:

We’re looking forward to seeing these talks in September.

If you haven’t registered already, there’s just 2 weeks before the early registration deadline.

Registration site can be found here. Get your tickets before the price goes up!

See you in Madrid!

Thank you again to our Platinum Sponsor, Erle, and to all of our Gold Sponsors: Amazon, Apple, Clearpath, Eprosima, Fetch Robotics, Google, Locus, Microsoft, ROBOTIS, SICK, Tier IV, Toyota Research Institute, Universal Robots.


From the program:
“Supported by robotics development companies, academic researchers,
the U.S. Government, and the Open Source Robotics Foundation
, ROS-Military is a multi-faceted approach to effectively
bringing the collaborative success of the ROS ecosystem to U.S.
military robotics …”

Interesting to see this talk in ROSCon and advertise OSRF
involvement, in particular the same year as Google makes news by
terminating a DoD contract

BTW, What the next killer-application build in ROS with the support of OSRF?


I’m very disappointed to see OSRF supporting the U.S. military (or any military for that matter) as well. I get that there’s money to be made, but I believe a non-profit charity should not be in the business of war.


@Martin_Guenther, I appreciate your concern and understand your perspective. I’d like to add some context to the discussion.

Open Robotics would not exist today without the support of the US Department of Defense (DOD). Back at Willow Garage around 2010-2011 we often talked about creating a separate organization to specifically focus on open source development of ROS & Gazebo. What was missing was a way to fund such an organization. A contract from DARPA to develop simulation software for the forthcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) allowed us to leave Willow and start OSRF in 2012. We were helped by a generous donation from Willow to cover our initial operating expenses, but it was the DRC contract that made it possible to build a team and create a sustainable organization around it. The DRC program alone supported ~10 people working on Gazebo and related projects for more than 3 years.

When Willow was winding down in early 2013, we were able to hire the core ROS team and thereby take responsibility for ROS itself only because of a grant that we had through the National Robotics Initiative. The grant was 1/3 funded by the US Army, with the rest funded equally by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Taken together that funding supported ~4 people for 3 years to maintain ROS and to start work on ROS 2.

It’s impossible to know for sure, but it’s reasonable to wonder whether ROS and/or Gazebo would have become orphaned projects had we not received that DOD funding at that time. Perhaps the community or another organization would have picked them up. But in my opinion, probably not.

Since that time we’ve worked (and continue to work) on a number of DOD-funded programs from various agencies. We’ve never tried to hide that support; you can find 4 DOD agency logos on our sponsors page. We’ve also never tried to hide the work that we do for those agencies. Quite the opposite: in all these programs the code and documentation that we develop is 100% open source. To my mind, that’s the best possible use of public money that’s paying for R&D: build technology that can be used by everyone, everywhere.

In addition, the fact that our government funding, DOD and otherwise, is all channeled into open source products has an important consequence: we cannot work on anything that is classified or subject to export control. As you might imagine, this constraint rules out pretty much anything related to weapons or other offensive technology. We go further, judging each potential project based on the apparent intent of the people running the program and the likely application of the technology. Over the years we have declined many funding opportunities because we found them to disagree with our personal and organizational principles.

Of course it would be naive in the extreme to imagine that technology that we develop and release won’t ever be used in a manner that we disagree with. I’m quite sure that somewhere out there are weaponized robots running ROS and being simulated with Gazebo. We can’t stop that from happening and still make our software open source; clause 6 of the Open Source Definition says, “The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor.” But we can and do choose not to build those robots or simulations ourselves.

Today, thanks in large part to the maturation of Gazebo and the growing promise of ROS 2, Open Robotics enjoys significant support from non-government sources. In 2013 government funding, primarily from DOD, made up more than 85% of our funding. In 2017 that figure was less than 25%. In the future could we move completely away from government funding? Perhaps, but it’s worth considering all the implications: while we’re very grateful for the support of our industry sponsors, they generally (and understandably) are asking us for near-term improvements and releases that will support their product or service offerings. Those priorities are vital to keep us grounded in the needs of today, but it’s primarily government R&D programs that give us the time and flexibility to take on bigger, riskier, more speculative projects. And in the US, those programs are primarily funded by DOD. I’d prefer to see agencies like NSF have a larger budget, but I’m not in a position to make that happen.

It’s worth noting that this debate is an old one. For an eloquent argument on the other side, see Ben Kuipers at Michigan. Ben doesn’t just make the argument, he lives it, which I greatly respect.


@gerkey I would like to thank you for that great explanation. My first feeling was the same than @Martin_Guenther, but being able to see where OSRF came from and that you keep an effort on considering all implications helps on my peace of mind.


Thanks @tkruse and @Martin_Guenther to put the issue on the table, and thanks @gerkey for your transparent answer (and for your final reference to Ben Kuipers).
As @awesomebytes says, I’m now more peaceful with the subject.

Yes, I’m fine as well now. Thanks @gerkey for clarifying things. I knew some of the back story already, and I don’t have a problem with OSRF taking money from DARPA. After all, DARPA funds a lot of US robotics projects without a direct military application. I am also aware that this funding is what kept the core ROS and Gazebo development team afloat, and that any open source technology can be appropriated for military purposes.

I think where a line would be crossed (for me; everyone has to listen to their own conscience and draw their own line) would be if OSRF was directly contributing to weapons technology, or to a project with a thinly veiled pretense which would likely result in a weapon. That’s the part of @gerkey’s anwer that reassured me the most: that all of your technology (in the military context) remains open source, and that you’re judging each potential project on a moral basis. As long as you stick to those principles, there’s nothing to worry about. I think you really have to look at potential partner’s background to distinguish between a project that’s honestly trying to make a contribution to e.g. a Search and Rescue (SAR) robot, and one that’s pretending to develop a SAR robot with the intent of repurposing the technology for Search and Destroy.

The announcement of a dedicated “ROS Military” initiative sounded a bit nefarious, but I guess I’ll have to wait for ROSCon to find out.

Anyway, let’s not hijack this thread any further than we already have. It’s really about the ROSCon program, and it looks awesome! :smile:


That’s the part of @gerkey’s anwer that reassured me the most: that all of your technology (in the military context) remains open source, and that you’re judging each potential project on a moral basis.

You’ll notice that @gerkey did not specify what moral basis is being applied. @gerkey spend a lot of words to explain that taking funds from the DOD is morally ok (or not), which was however not the topic.

The actual problem arises when OSRF actively supports ROS-Military. ROS MIlitary has the goal of improving technology that helps killing for political goals, and in particular do so for the US government. Due to that, it is political, it takes sides in global conflicts. It’s not immoral for ROS-Military to exist, it is very transparent about it’s goals, including the political aspects. Read the ROSCon program: “The United States military…” Could not be more transparent.

But it is impossible to offer any support to ROS-Military without being political. OSRF can take all the money the DOD wishes to throw at it, OSRF can tolerate the existence of ROS-Military, but it should in no case directly support ROS.Military, and from the ROSCon program it seems that it crossed this line, and nothing in @gerkey s response even denied that.

So any organisation in this world which thinks about sponsoring OSRF one way or the other now has to consider that OSRF helps ROS Military, and thus helps military operations inside and outside the US that protect the American petrol-fuelled way of life.

This is different from taking DOD money or supporting civilian DOD funded projects (setting aside the arguments by Ben Kuipers for the sake of the argument).

ROS-Military is not politically neutral, and it is not civilian. People will die thanks to ROS Military. People will die for political goals of the US. That’s all fair enough to participate in for any individual at their discretion, but not for OSRF, IMHO.


Hello everyone,

It was quite hard for me to write a follow-up to @tkruse’s last reply, so I exchanged some private messages with members of the program committee instead. Still, I fail to understand why @awesomebytes, @andreucm and @Martin_Guenther feel relieved by @gerkey’s explanation and thus want to give my personal response here in public. I expect it represents the opinion of a significant fraction of the contributing ROS community.

I agree with a lot of what @tkruse means to convey, but the way he puts it is neither productive nor easy to agree with. The discussion about whether or not OSRF should be funded by military organizations in the future (too) is a valid one, but it is per se unrelated to the program of ROSCon and thus does not belong here. I am sure we will see a lot of discussion on that at the conference and I believe constructive statements in a different thread are welcome.

It seems there were a number of submissions for this ROSCon on military-related projects and the program committee had to decide whether or not they want to have these talks at the conference.
Looking through the program, the outcome was to accept two talks with obvious military funding or background, the one by Alejandro R. Mosteo (Centro Universitario de la Defensa, Zaragoza) on Ada support for ROS2 and the one by Jerry Towler, apparently summarizing military projects for the US military.

I object to the scheduled talk by Jerry Towler.

The abstract does not describe any project with civil use cases (or any concrete project at all for that matter).
After reading it many times, I would expect him

  • to introduce ‘‘ROS-M’’, maybe comparable to ``ROS-I’’ but with more centralized funding,
  • summarize some non-classified portions of US-military robotics projects in the past,
  • show how they can benefit from using ROS,
  • explain how they have interesting research problems also in uncontroversial scenarios,
  • state that they will open-source everything
  • and thus not touch weapon controls.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe this can be an interesting overview talk.
``ROS-M’’ might even be an interesting movement, given they open-source all their code.
I would like to see the presentation as a 20-minutes video on vimeo.
But I do not want it to be part of the ROSCon conference.

ROSCon is an event to build and support lobbies and communities around ROS and software projects.
The committee chooses which lobbies are supported by deciding on talks, within the quality and number of submissions they receive.
But some communities and lobbies do not mix well.
Ryan Gariepy said at the end of last year’s ROSCon something like
“We would never have imagined to have a conference where we talk about robot coloring books and fully autonomous S-classes at the same event”.
Imagining this year’s statement additionally contains “and autonomous convoy vehicles for border patrol”, or anything comparable, makes me cringe.
In my opinion, military applications of ROS, though they obviously exist, have no place in the worldwide happy-go-lucky, lobby-supporting community that OSRF always advertises at their events.

Discussing military applications in the field of autonomous robotics breaks a taboo for many academics - especially in places where funding does not in large part come from the domain. At least in Germany, there is a long-standing debate about the so-called “Zivilklausel”, which requires universities that accept it to reject all research and collaboration in projects with military objectives, sometimes even potential military applications.

All in all, I do not oppose talks by military-related researchers or projects in general.
They might present novel concepts or software modules that are useful for many civil applications as well, and if they do not only focus on how military robotic systems can benefit from them, they are clearly interesting for every researcher.
But I believe the ROS community - to a significant proportion represented at (and by) ROSCon - should not feature military applications and a talk titled ‘‘ROS-Military: Progress and Promise’’ crosses that line.
This has nothing to do with ‘‘hiding objectionable projects’’, it is a matter of public support.


After hearing the presentation at the conference, I fail to understand the decision by the program comitee altogether. Clearly, there have been alternative proposals with more content.

There was not a single item of information in the presentation that would be relevant to anyone listening.
The organizers might want to reconsider how they advertise the event:

ROSCon is a developers conference, in the model of PyCon and BoostCon. […] the two-day program will comprise technical talks and tutorials that will introduce you to new tools and libraries, as well as teach you more about the ones you already know.

The only tangible outcome of the talk is that OSRF and SwRI now have a recorded presentation entry that demonstrates that ROS-Military is apparently a topic present in / and involving the community.
This might help in future management meetings that decide on project budgets.

I appeal to the comitee to never accept non-concrete military-related talks in the name of the community again. The community, including almost every participant I talked to, disagrees.


Hi @v4hn , everyone,

Speaking frankly, the ROSCon Organizing Committee (OC) is disappointed in the misalignment between the proposal for the talk in question and the presented content, especially given the concerns which members of the community expressed publicly and privately in advance. We expect that all presenters keep in mind that the ROS community is a global and diverse community, and that certain topics, motivations, and even phrases are going to be received very differently when presenters leave their home countries and their local professional communities.

We will be making some changes to our review process, but we will not be putting in place a blanket ban on any topics at this point in time. We believe that such a policy would be tantamount to ignoring the potential impact ROS may have on the world outside of our labs and workshops. Furthermore, it would be insufficient. Considering the rapidly changing pace of robotics development and deployment, it is all but certain that there will be equally controversial topics proposed in the near future which are unrelated to the military.

The nuances present in these sensitive topics also mean that face-to-face discussions are more important, not less. Speaking for myself, I had several hours of discussions with community members afterwards, none of which would have happened if I was limited to Discourse. It should also be noted that many of the people whom I spoke with were not objecting to the topic of the talk, but instead were more concerned with how it was presented. That also suggests to us that our focus should be on helping presenters improve how to express topics which are now far more controversial than the "rosbuild vs. catkin" debates found at the first ROSCons.

The OC will reserve the right to request a substantially complete draft before the conference of any presentation which has at its foundation a controversial topic. This includes but is not limited to talks which focus on military initiatives. If you would like an opinion in advance of submission, feel free to contact the ROSCon 2019 OC at the to-be-announced email address.


+100 to this: personally I’d rather know about something and not like it than ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening.


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