Project Newsletter #12

May 2021

Interview with Christoph Hellmann Santos

Research Group Leader, Fraunhofer IPA

"Towards a reference software architecture for robot systems in agriculture"

Why do we need a open reference software architecture for robot systems in agriculture?

There are two main arguments for having a reference architecture for robot systems in agriculture. First, it is quite difficult to built high quality and reliable robot systems in the first place. Therefore, the entry barrier for companies to build agricultural robot systems is quite high. They need to invest a lot of hours to gather the necessary know how to design such systems. With the advanced capabilities of robot systems, software is a key factor in any robot system today. In order to lower the entry barrier for companies, especially start-ups and SMEs, to build agricultural robots, we want to make the knowledge on how to design a working and reliable software architecture for robots in agriculture openly available. The second argument is that having a common software architecture significantly simplifies technology and knowledge transfer. This is very important in innovation center networks where knowledge needs to be exchanged frequently. Today in robotics, a lot of time and effort is spent on transferring technologies between different kinds of software architectures. This effectively inhibits innovation in robotics. A common reference software architecture that is adopted by researchers and companies could help here too.

How do you proceed to design the reference software architecture?

In the agROBOfood project we have a number of partners that have been building their own agricultural robots. In a first step, we have been gathering their requirements and approaches to robot software architectures. Based on this input, we are currently drafting a first outline of a reference software architecture for agricultural robots. The architecture will include a choice of open source robot middleware and open source packages to use for common agricultural problems. In a third step, we hope to also deploy the software architecture on a number of existing robots. The reference software architecture will be publicly available on Github for anyone to comment and improve.

Who is going to use the reference software architecture?

The software architecture will be open for anyone to use. However, we hope to support mainly start-ups and SMEs in their development process with this approach. The software architecture should give them a chance to compete with larger organizations that have an advantage in resources and can develop proprietary solutions.