The OSRC Team is Joining Intrinsic and What it Means for the ROS Community

In the past, Open Robotics has offered consulting-style services to other organizations developing ROS applications. Will this continue to be part of the business model for either OSRF or OSRC/Intrinsic?

OSRF is no longer going to be pursuing the consulting services business model. But the OSRC team at Intrinsic will continue to do so. If you’re interested, please reach out to Brian or contact the team at Intrinsic.

Can you please elaborate on Intrinsic’s plans on ROS?

The continued development of ROS core and therefore growing the ROS community is a key objective for Intrinsic. Like many robotics companies, Intrinsic already leverages valuable tools from the ROS ecosystem, like Gazebo. While these tools enabled us to start building our robotics software and AI platform quickly, we also started to feel some limitations when it came to productization. Instead of overcoming these challenges just for our own team, we see the value in helping solve some pain points more holistically for our future platform users and the entire robotics community. Hence, on the one hand we are using ROS and related projects like everybody else in the community. On the other hand, as part of our platform, we aim to provide a more hardened environment for enterprise use, which could make it easier to deploy ROS at scale.


Will OSRC developers continue to contribute to the ROS “core”, or can we expect them to focus more at the application level on “Intrinsic’s near-term focus in industrial manufacturing”?

Yes, they will continue to contribute. To set expectations, the OSRC team has always been pulled in multiple directions, with most developers doing core development and maintenance in a minority of their time, because of customer project obligations. We only expect improvement from that status quo: with this new arrangement we anticipate the number of simultaneous responsibilities to decrease and at the same time the allocation of dedicated time for core development will increase. At Intrinsic, the team will have access to new team members, resources, infrastructure and opportunities to collaborate and innovate across the Alphabet ecosystem. We expect a lot of contributions back to the community from work that’s already been scoped, and interesting new projects to come.

Intrinsic wants to see ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF be even more successful and for core libraries to be hardened for enterprise use and made easier to deploy at scale. To help achieve this they will support the OSRC team to continue doing what they have been so successful at so far. Intrinsic hopes to make it easier for roboticists to get from prototype to deployment, using the best of ROS and new tools. OSRF, not Intrinsic, will be responsible for directing the roadmap for ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF Projects. The plan is for the OSRC team to continue supporting the projects in accordance with that roadmap: writing features, fixing issues, merging pull requests, releasing packages and distros, and generally making the projects “go” day to day.

Is there a defined transition phase in which the former Open Robotics developers continue working directly on ROS in the known mode before the acquisition?

Prior to the acquisition, developers at OSRC split their time contributing to core repositories and servicing commercial projects. The status quo is not fundamentally changing, the OSRC team at Intrinsic will continue to service some existing commercial contracts. However, the team will have more time and resources to devote to core projects than they did before. Expect to see your favorite GitHub user handles just as often in the coming months!

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What does this mean for non-Open Robotics core maintainers and committers, in the short term and the long term?

In the short term, nothing will change for all existing core maintainers and committers. The projects will keep operating using the same processes as they have to date.

In the longer term, we expect the OSRF to put in place a more formal process for managing who becomes a maintainer and who has commit rights to core repositories. Through this process, maintainers and committers will become more broadly sourced and the projects will become more sustainable, with a diverse foundation of maintainers and committers spread across a variety of organizations, including individual contributors.


What will be the relationship between Intrinsic and OSRF?

OSRF is independent of Intrinsic. In the same way other companies and members of the community contribute to ROS and work with OSRF, Intrinsic will do so as well. As an Intrinsic employee, Brian Gerkey will keep a board seat at the OSRF. In the near-term, Intrinsic will be working closely with OSRF as OSRF transitions operational tasks and its governance model. Intrinsic is becoming a major contributor to OSRF’s projects due to its contribution of efforts from the OSRC team at Intrinsic. OSRF remains an independent non-profit welcoming significant resources and support from Intrinsic.


Will we see a lot more “copyright intrinsic” in new code for the core project?

Yes, you can expect that as the OSRC team at Intrinsic makes contributions that those contributions will be copyrighted by Intrinsic. This is just the same as seeing code copyrighted by Apex.AI, TRI, Sony, Willow Garage, and many, many other organization contributors to ROS.

This ultimately has little impact on the open source nature of the code or on the license that allows you to use it. All contributions to ROS code are licensed using the same license as the rest of the code in that package (for ROS 2 this is typically the Apache License 2.0). While Intrinsic, as the copyright holder of its contributions, is free to do with those contributions as they see fit, as soon as they are released using the open source license the community is also free to use them in accordance with the license terms.


Will you work on stability of existing features over adding new features? Will you focus on features that are of interest to Intrinsic over features of general community interest?


First, we would like to acknowledge that balancing stability and new features is a struggle for development teams. Currently the OSRC team at Intrinsic is focused on minimizing disruption to the development cycle and roadmap. Of course the broader community–from large corporations to bug-fixing students–have features that they want implemented. As with any organization that contributes to open source software, Intrinsic has an interest in seeing features it wants or needs added to ROS as a priority. This does not mean that any features Intrinsic is not interested in will be ignored or abandoned. As core contributors, committers and maintainers, the OSRC team at Intrinsic will continue to ensure contributors have a fair chance of seeing their feature or fix being merged into the source code. The tension inherent in open collaboration is that sometimes opinions differ around what should be implemented and when. Intrinsic is supportive of the OSRF updating the project governance and management model to promote greater visibility and participation by the community. OSRF and Intrinsic both want a future where Intrinsic is just one of a large group of contributors.

In the mid- and long-term, Intrinsic is interested in seeing ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF become even more useful for in-production, for-sale robots in the same way that the Linux kernel is useful for in-production, for-sale devices from televisions to mission-critical servers. This naturally leads to an interest in stability of the core software and features. However, Intrinsic also wants to see the software grow in usefulness and applicability. The OSRC team at Intrinsic will work on both making the existing features more stable and reliable as well as adding new features that benefit both Intrinsic and the community.


Question: Might we see a closed ROS2(Pro) intrinsic version at some point with software-based selling points that will not be part of the community version and will fragment the community?
@v4hn @sampreets3

Since its original inception ROS has been envisioned to be an ecosystem which commercial companies can build products on and participate in. We have carefully curated the core to make sure that the components are all commercially usable with liberal licenses. Originally we used the BSD 3-Clause by default and now we use the Apache 2.0 license. In addition, we strongly recommend others follow our lead and also use similar liberal licenses for their contributions. The explicit purpose of this is that companies can use and integrate these elements into commercial products. The companies that integrate ROS into their products are not required to contribute their code back to the community, but by just participating in the community they are providing value. And most companies learn, sometimes slowly, that engaging and contributing back to the open source community can help them improve their commercial product in future releases.

While it is still too early to provide more details about Intrinsic’s robotics software and AI platform, we can clearly address the concerns regarding our plans with respect to ROS. Intrinsic overall and in particular the OSRC team joining us will continue to contribute improvements to the well known public repositories. We strongly believe that investing into the open source ROS ecosystem is not only the right thing to do, but also the best business decision. We plan to actively contribute to core development improving the open source products, instead of creating fragmentation which we know will damage the community. At the same time, Intrinsic is also developing proprietary software as part of our forthcoming platform. These parts will integrate with the released open source products providing additional capabilities, infrastructure and tooling for the ROS ecosystem.


In the IEEE Spectrum interview Intrinsic and OSRC mentioned a “more industrialized platform”. Can you please explain what you mean by this and how it relates to the ROS community?

Intrinsic is not yet ready to share details about its planned software products. Fully independent of ROS and this acquisition, Intrinsic will share more about its platform in 2023.
A “more industrialized platform” refers on the one hand to extended quality assurance and support levels. On the other hand to additional functionality, infrastructure and tooling around the core ROS framework.
For the ROS community, this means continued and strengthened support for the development and maintenance of ROS open source code by Intrinsic as well as complementary commercial offerings.


What about those Intrinsic layoffs that I just heard about?
@ruffsl @zmk5
As noted in a statement from Intrinsic, their leadership made the difficult decision to let go a number of team members this week. They are offering as much proactive support as possible to those impacted. This decision was made in light of shifts in their prioritization and longer-term strategic direction for their platform. It will ensure that Intrinsic can continue to allocate resources to their highest priority initiatives, such as building their software and AI platform, integrating and supporting the teams from the recent strategic acquisition of OSRC, and working with key industry partners.

None of the OSRC team joining Intrinsic (including me) was impacted by this decision. Nor will this news change our existing plans or roadmaps for ROS, Gazebo, or Open-RMF. The community commitments that we made together with Intrinsic in December are unchanged. As it happens, this week our team is joining Intrinsic and getting to know our new colleagues! 2023 will be a big year for the whole team and we’re excited to share more soon.


Will documentation of core ROS2 functionality be higher on the priority list?

OSRF will set priorities for the development of ROS together with the community. OSRF does want quality-of-life things such as documentation to have a high priority. However, ultimately it is the community of contributors that will do the work and each contributor is free to decide what they want to work on.

Will there be more clear communication wrt which specific features are being worked on (short term / mid term / long term), and which are no longer a priority?

Both Gazebo and ROS publish roadmaps in their documentation. Although these are aspirational roadmaps, and depend on whether contributors come forward to actually do the work, the ROS roadmap in particular is produced by contributors (including the former OSRC). In the future, OSRF may be able to put in place a process that produces a more-frequently updated roadmap for each of its projects, but because the work is contributor-driven it is difficult to guarantee roadmap items will be implemented by a certain date or release.

How will OSRF be funded?

In addition to assets already held in reserve, OSRF also received proceeds from the sale of OSRC and OSRC-SG. Aside from this, OSRF has various sources of funding such as licensing, royalties, and grants to support its ongoing operations.

We also receive financial support from companies and individuals who are beneficiaries of OSRF’s projects. In the past, this has not been as significant a portion of our funding as we would have liked, so we would like to encourage the community to keep us in mind and donate when you can!

OSRF currently only has two full-time staff (a CEO and a CTO), as well as five board members. This does not seem suitable for doing a lot of work. How will development be done in the future?

With its for-profit subsidiaries, OSRC and OSRC-SG, OSRF tried to be the driving force in the development of ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF. This worked well for ten years, but is reaching its limits as the ROS community grows, and users place increasingly stringent demands on software quality. One goal of this acquisition is to shift OSRF to a model that is closer to other open-source software foundations, where the Foundation is the central point of ownership and organisation, while actual development work is performed by interested contributors throughout the community, from large commercial users to individual hobbyists. OSRF also has outside contractors who maintain and improve the infrastructure, such as the build farm, that the projects depend on. Going forward, OSRF will examine the needs of the community, the contributions being made by the community, and its own resources to determine whether to expand its staff and in what areas to invest in additional staff. Even the Linux Foundation only employs one full-time developer: Linus himself.