January 10, 2023

Our Optimistic Thoughts on the Open Robotics Acquisition

by Dr. Dave Coleman, CEO
Our Optimistic Thoughts on the Open Robotics Acqui

Big news shook the global ROS community last month with the announcement of Alphabet’s Intrinsic acquisition of Open Robotics. If you are reading this article, you’ve probably already heard about this. Open Robotics has been the steward of the Robot Operating System, so this change has caused some concern among various users of this popular open source software. In this thought piece we’d like to share PickNik’s perspective on this new development.

PickNik Robotics is a major contributor and user of ROS, with some members of our team going back to working at Willow Garage. We are arguably the second biggest proponent of ROS adoption in the world, and we know its strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone. ROS’s health and well being is core to PickNik’s mission, as PickNik’s MoveIt and MoveIt Pro software is built on top of ROS. We’ve helped over 70 companies leverage ROS to solve their toughest problems.

We believe that ROS has been a huge catalyst for growth of the robotics industry worldwide, and its impact will continue for years to come. We believe the acquisition of Open Robotics by Intrinsic will not change ROS’ role in the industry in the short or medium term. In fact, the stable funding that Intrinsic can provide will likely allow for more long term investments in the quality and stability of the ROS codebase. This is a very exciting outcome for users of ROS everywhere!

PickNik believes the intentions of then CEO Brian Gerkey at Open Robotics when he said “there [will be] no disruption in the day-to-day activities with respect to our core commitment to ROS”. Brian has a long history of leading open source robotics projects, starting with Player/Stage in 2000 then ROS in 2007. Brian has confirmed he will continue to lead the transitioning team in their open source efforts at Intrinsic, which is good news for everyone.

This author has personally discussed with Brian Gerkey on many occasions the challenges of sustained funding of open source software, and shares in those struggles while leading the MoveIt open source project. Open Robotics has long failed to secure sufficient funding to address many core ROS 2 challenges. Given the impact and widespread adoption of ROS, the team at Open Robotics that was focused on investing in the open source platform was a small minority of their overall engineering organization. Because of this, Open Robotics decided that their best path for sustaining ROS was to join a large, well funded benefactor company. We respect this decision. In contrast, PickNik Robotics has chosen to pursue an open core model to fund development of MoveIt, providing a premium MoveIt Pro product on top of the open source library. On either path, more sustainable business models typically result in more successful open source software.

We believe that Intrinsic’s interest in the team behind ROS is a good indication of the continued success of ROS. Our bets are that Intrinsic’s yet to be announced product will rely heavily on ROS 2, further ensuring ROS 2’s success. If Intrinsic uses ROS, they will be very motivated to further mature and fund the platform.

We sincerely hope that, long term, Intrinsic will have the self-control and longevity to continue to steward ROS forward. It is possible Intrinsic changes directions, or shuts its doors forever as sometimes happens with companies funded by Alphabet/Google. However, the team at Open Robotics has done their best to ensure ROS lives on either way. Lucky for us, ROS’s copyright is actually owned by the non-profit company Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), which was not and cannot be acquired by Intrinsic due to their open source charter. Ideally OSRF grows its team and its role in developing ROS, even without its Open Source Robotics Corp (OSRC) subsidiary that was acquired. Other organizations could also step up to steward ROS in the future, if necessary, including ROS Industrial, the MoveIt Community, and PickNik Robotics.

PickNik intends to continue to use ROS in all its client projects, and in our flagship product MoveIt Pro. PickNik is also happy to continue to provide the ROS community engineering services and fill in any support voids that Open Robotics leaves behind.

We wish the Open Robotics team best of luck with their new home, and look forward to seeing bigger and better contributions to ROS come from within Intrinsic!