UBR-1 on ROS2 Humble

It has been a while since I’ve posted to the blog, but lately I’ve actually been working on the UBR-1 again after a somewhat long hiatus. In case you missed the earlier posts in this series:

ROS2 Humble

The latest ROS2 release came out just a few weeks ago. ROS2 Humble targets Ubuntu 22.04 and is also a long term support (LTS) release, meaning that both the underlying Ubuntu operating system and the ROS2 release get a full 5 years of support.

Since installing operating systems on robots is often a pain, I only use the LTS releases and so I had to migrate from the previous LTS, ROS2 Foxy (on Ubuntu 20.04). Overall, there aren’t many changes to the low-level ROS2 APIs as things are getting more stable and mature. For some higher level packages, such as MoveIt2 and Navigation2, the story is a bit different.


One of the nice things about the ROS2 Foxy release was that it targeted the same operating system as the final ROS1 release, Noetic. This allowed users to have both ROS1 and ROS2 installed side-by-side. If you’re still developing in ROS1, that means you probably don’t want to upgrade all your computers quite yet. While my robot now runs Ubuntu 22.04, my desktop is still running 18.04.

Therefore, I had to find a way to visualize ROS2 data on a computer that did not have the latest ROS2 installed. Initially I tried the Foxglove Studio, but didn’t have any luck with things actually connecting using the native ROS2 interface (the rosbridge-based interface did work). Foxglove is certainly interesting, but so far it’s not really an RVIZ replacement - they appear to be more focused on offline data visualization.

I then moved onto running rviz2 inside a docker environment - which works well when using the rocker tool:

sudo apt-get install python3-rocker
sudo rocker --net=host --x11 osrf/ros:humble-desktop rviz2

If you are using an NVIDIA card, you’ll need to add --nvidia along with --x11.

In order to properly visualize and interact with my UBR-1 robot, I needed to add the ubr1_description package to my workspace in order to get the meshes and also my rviz configurations. To accomplish this, I needed to create my own docker image. I largely based it off the underlying ROS docker images:

ARG WORKSPACE=/opt/workspace

FROM osrf/ros:humble-desktop

# install build tools
RUN apt-get update && apt-get install -q -y --no-install-recommends \
    python3-colcon-common-extensions \
    git-core \
    && rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

# get ubr code
RUN git clone https://github.com/mikeferguson/ubr_reloaded.git \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr1_bringup/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr1_calibration/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr1_gazebo/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr1_moveit/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr1_navigation/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr_msgs/COLCON_IGNORE \
    && touch ubr_reloaded/ubr_teleop/COLCON_IGNORE

# install dependencies
RUN . /opt/ros/$ROS_DISTRO/setup.sh \
    && apt-get update && rosdep install -q -y \
      --from-paths src \
      --ignore-src \
    && rm -rf /var/lib/apt/lists/*

# build ubr code
RUN . /opt/ros/$ROS_DISTRO/setup.sh \
    && colcon build

# setup entrypoint
COPY ./ros_entrypoint.sh /

ENTRYPOINT ["/ros_entrypoint.sh"]
CMD ["bash"]

The image derives from humble-desktop and then adds the build tools and clones my repository. I then ignore the majority of packages, install dependencies and then build the workspace. The ros_entrypoint.sh script handles sourcing the workspace configuration.

set -e

# setup ros2 environment
source "/opt/workspace/install/setup.bash"
exec "$@"

I could then create the docker image and run rviz inside it:

docker build -t ubr:main
sudo rocker --net=host --x11 ubr:main rviz2

The full source of these docker configs is in the docker folder of my ubr_reloadedrepository. NOTE: The updated code in the repository also adds a late-breaking change to use CycloneDDS as I’ve had numerous connectivity issues with FastDDS that I have not been able to debug.

Visualization on MacOSX

I also frequently want to be able to interact with my robot from my Macbook. While I previously installed ROS2 Foxy on my Intel-based Macbook, the situation is quite changed now with MacOSX being downgraded to Tier 3 support and the new Apple M1 silicon (and Apple’s various other locking mechanisms) making it harder and harder to setup ROS2 directly on the Macbook.

As with the Linux desktop, I tried out Foxglove - however it is a bit limited on Mac. The MacOSX environment does not allow opening the required ports, so the direct ROS2 topic streaming does not work and you have to use rosbridge. I found I was able to visualize certain topics, but that switching between topics frequently broke.

At this point, I was about to give up, until I noticed that Ubuntu 22.04 arm64 is a Tier 1 platform for ROS2 Humble. I proceeded to install the arm64 version of Ubuntu inside Parallels (Note: I was cheap and initially tried to use the VMWare technology preview, but was unable to get the installer to even boot). There are a few tricks here as there is no arm64 desktop installer, so you have to install the server edition and then upgrade it to a desktop. There is a detailed description of this workflow on askubuntu.com. Installing ros-humble-desktop from arm64 Debians was perfectly easy.

rviz2 runs relatively quick inside the Parallels VM, but overall it was not quite as quick or stable as using rocker on Ubuntu. However, it is really nice to be able to do some ROS2 development when traveling with only my Macbook.

Migration Notes

Note: each of the links in this section is to a commit or PR that implements the discussed changes.

In the core ROS API, there are only a handful of changes - and most of them are actually simply fixing potential bugs. The logging macros have been updated for security purposes and require c-strings like the old ROS1 macros did. Additionally the macros are now better at detecting invalid substitution strings. Ament has also gotten better at detecting missing dependencies. The updates I made to robot_controllers show just how many bugs were caught by this more strict checking.

image_pipeline has had some minor updates since Foxy, mainly to improve consistency between plugins and so I needed to update some topic remappings.

Navigation has the most updates. amcl model type names have been changed since the models are now plugins. The API of costmap layers has changed significantly, and so a number of updates were required just to get the system started. I then made a more detailed pass through the documentation and found a few more issues and improvements with my config, especially around the behavior tree configuration.

I also decided to do a proper port of graceful_controller to ROS2, starting from the latest ROS1 code since a number of improvements have happened in the past year since I had originally ported to ROS2.

Next Steps

There are still a number of new features to explore with Navigation2, but my immediate focus is going to shift towards getting MoveIt2 setup on the robot, since I can’t easily swap between ROS1 and ROS2 anymore after upgrading the operating system.

A Review of 2020

This year has been quite different than I think most people would have expected. I haven’t traveled since February, which makes this year the least I’ve traveled in probably a decade. This allowed me to make some progress on a number of projects, including restarting this blog.

The UBR-1

Probably the most visible project for the year was buying, restoring, and upgrading to ROS2 a UBR-1 robot. There are quite a few posts you can find under the ubr1 tag. In 2021, I’m planning to finally make some progress on running MoveIt2 on the UBR-1.

Botfarm Rev. A

We refer to my farm in New Hampshire as “The Botfarm”, since I mainly grow robots here. Since I wasn’t going to be traveling this year, it seemed like a great time to actually start a garden as well.

We fenced off about 2500 square feet for this first garden, although we only ended up planting about half that space. The fence is seven foot tall plastic mesh, which seems to have worked pretty well since no deer got in (and they are everywhere here). The fancy sign over the gate pretty much constitutes my only woodworking project of the year:

As it turned out, getting seeds for some things was really quite a challenge for the last minute garden project. In the end, we ended up growing:

  • Zucchini - 117.25 kg total from a single 50 foot row of plants. Direct seeded.
  • Squash - 29.7 kg from a half row. Direct seeded.
  • Cucumbers - 12.8 kg. We planted several store bought plants since I didn’t get the seeds into ground until quite late. The upside of the “late” plants was that by then I knew they had to be trellised and so those plants really grew great.
  • Potatoes - 20 kg harvested from 5 kg planted. Not a great yield - the soil ended up really packing down hard around the plants after hilling.
  • Tomatoes - 4 kg of Sweet 100, and 7.7 kg of Beefsteak from two plants of each kind.
  • Broccoli - was planted way too late, didn’t really start to do anything until the fall. We got several heads of broccoli.
  • Pumpkins - 50 kg of pumpkins from 3 plants.
  • Corn - about a dozen ears. This was another poor yield, the corn was basically planted in the worst of the soil.
  • Onions - a bunch of tiny ones - I completely misunderstood how to plant them and put them way too close together…


In July, I also started home brewing - something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Of course, I can’t just throw some things in a kettle on the stove, I had go all process controlled and data driven.

The first component of my setup is an Anvil Foundry electric kettle. This is an all-in-one that is used as the mash tun and the boil kettle. So far, I’ve gotten lower than expected efficiency from the unit, but over several batches I’ve been making improvements. At the very end of the year, I picked up a grain mill (on a great discount) which I’m hoping will further improve efficiency.

Once the wort is made, I’ve got a Tilt Hydrometer to monitor the fermentation process. This is an interesting little bluetooth device that wirelessly relays the temperature and specific gravity of the beer it is floating in. While the absolute value is not entirely accurate, the trend-line is super useful to see when the fermentation is done (or stuck). The data is recorded every 15 minutes and makes great plots - you can even get an idea of how active the fermentation is by how noisy the data is at a given point in time:

I didn’t end up brewing much in the summer heat. I did a few batches of Hefeweizens, all of which could be fermented in the cellar. I’ve been slowly increasing the temperature I want to ferment those at (as well as for some Belgian styles), which is incompatible with the winter temperatures here in New Hampshire. This fall I added an electric heat band and a temperature controller so I can keep the beer at the right temperature during fermentation.

I’m currently working on 3D-printing an orbital shaker to propagate yeast starters - I’ll post on that next year when it is done.

This fall I also did Virtual Beer School with Natalya Watson and then passed the Cicerone Beer Server exam. I’m hoping to complete the next level, Certified Cicerone, next year.

The Shop

While this blog is called “Robot & Chisel”, I did not end up doing any woodworking this year. I did make some progress on the shop. One of the selling features of the BotFarm was a big barn on the property that I have been slowly turning into a shop. There is now heat and insulation in the building and we are making steady progress on finishing out the space. I’m hoping to have all the woodworking tools moved in by summer next year.

Next Year

After this year, I’m not even going to try to make predictions of what I’ll work on next year. But I do hope to do some more ROS2 stuff on the UBR-1 and brew more beers (especially some Saisons and some “fake barrel aged” stuff).

Navigation in ROS2

With a map having been built and localization working, it was time to get autonomous navigation working on the UBR-1.

Comparing with ROS1

While many of the ROS1 to ROS2 ports basically amount to a find-and-replace of the various ROS interfaces and CMake directives, navigation got a fairly extensive re-architecture from the package that I’ve helped maintain over the past seven years.

A number of the plugin interfaces in ROS1 have been replaced with action interfaces. While the planners themselves are still plugins, they are each loaded into a server node which exposes an action interface to access the planning functions.

One of the biggest changes in ROS2 is the use of behavior trees to structure the recovery behaviors and connect the various action-based interfaces. This allows quite a bit of interesting new functionality, such as using different recovery behaviors for controller failures than are used for planning failures and allowing quite a bit of control over when to plan. There are already dozens of behavior tree nodes and a there is also a new tutorial on writing custom behavior tree nodes.

In ROS1, the navigation stack contains two local “planners”: trajectory_rollout and dwa (the Dynamic Window Approach). ROS2 fixes this horrid naming issue and properly calls these “controllers”, but only includes the updated dwb implementation of the Dynamic Window Approach. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever used trajectory rollout as I was never sold on DWA. I’m still not sold on DWB.

Initial Launch Files

Setting up the navigation to run followed a pretty similar pattern to setting up SLAM and localization: I copied over the example launch files from the nav2_bringup package and started modifying things. The real difference was the magnitude of things to modify.

A note of caution: it is imperative that you use the files from the proper branch. Some behavior tree modules have been added in the main branch that do not yet exist in the Foxy release. Similarly some parameters have been renamed or added in new releases. Some of these will likely get backported, but the simplest approach is to use the proper launch and configuration files from the start.

My initial setup involved just the base laser scanner. I configured both the local and global costmaps to use the base laser. It is important to set the robot_radius for your robot (or the footprint if you aren’t circular). The full configuration can be found in the ubr1_navigation package, but here is a snippet of my local costmap configuration:

       global_frame: odom
       robot_base_frame: base_link
       rolling_window: true
       width: 4
       height: 4
       resolution: 0.05
       robot_radius: 0.2413
       plugins: ["voxel_layer", "inflation_layer"]
         plugin: "nav2_costmap_2d::InflationLayer"
         cost_scaling_factor: 3.0
         plugin: "nav2_costmap_2d::VoxelLayer"
         enabled: True
         publish_voxel_map: True
         origin_z: 0.0
         z_resolution: 0.05
         z_voxels: 16
         max_obstacle_height: 2.0
         mark_threshold: 0
         observation_sources: scan
           topic: /base_scan
           max_obstacle_height: 2.0
           clearing: True
           marking: True
           data_type: "LaserScan"

A fairly late change to my configuration was to adjust the size of the local costmap. By default, the turtlebot3 configuration uses a 3x3 meter costmap, which is pretty small. Depending on your top speed and the simulation time used for the DWB controller, you will almost certainly need a larger map if your robot is faster than a turtlebot3.

With this minimal configuration, I was able to get the robot rolling around autonomously!

Tilting Head Node

The UBR-1 has a depth camera in the head and, in ROS1, would tilt the camera up and down to carve out a wider field of view when there was an active navigation goal. The tilt_head.py script also pointed the head in the direction of the the local plan. The first step in adding the head camera to the costmaps was porting the tilt_head.py script to ROS2.

One complication with a 3d sensor is the desire to use the floor plane for clearing the costmap, but not marking. A common approach for this is to setup two observation sources. The first source is setup to be the marking source and has a minimum obstacle height high enough to ignore most noise. A second source is set to be a clearing source and uses the full cloud. Since clearing sources are applied before marking sources, this works fine and won’t accidentally over clear:

observation_sources: base_scan tilting_cloud tilting_cloud_clearing
  topic: /base_scan
  max_obstacle_height: 2.0
  clearing: True
  marking: True
  data_type: "LaserScan"
  topic: /head_camera/depth_downsample/points
  min_obstacle_height: 0.2
  max_obstacle_height: 2.0
  clearing: False
  marking: True
  data_type: "PointCloud2"
  topic: /head_camera/depth_downsample/points
  min_obstacle_height: 0.0
  max_obstacle_height: 0.5
  clearing: True
  marking: False
  data_type: "PointCloud2"

In setting this up, I had to set the minimum obstacle height quite high (0.2 meters is almost 8 inches). This is a product of the robot not being entirely well calibrated and the timing accuracy of the sensor causing the points to sometimes rise out of the plane. We’ll improve that below.

You’ll notice I am using a “depth_downsample/points” topic. As inserting full VGA clouds into the costmap would be prohibitively costly, I downsample the depth image to 160x120 and then turn that into a point cloud (a common approach you’ll find on a number of ROS1 robots). This was added to my head_camera.launch.py:

# Decimate cloud to 160x120
  parameters=[{'decimation_x': 4, 'decimation_y': 4}],
  remappings=[('in/image_raw', 'depth_registered/image_rect'),
              ('in/camera_info', 'depth/camera_info'),
              ('out/image_raw', 'depth_downsample/image_raw'),
              ('out/camera_info', 'depth_downsample/camera_info')],
# Downsampled XYZ point cloud (mainly for navigation)
  remappings=[('image_rect', 'depth_downsample/image_raw'),
              ('camera_info', 'depth_downsample/camera_info'),
              ('points', 'depth_downsample/points')],

As with the several other of the image_proc components I’ve work with, the CropDecimateNode needed some patches to actually function.

With this in place, things almost worked. But I was getting a bunch of errors about the sensor origin being off the map. This made no sense at first - the robot is clearly on the map - I can see it right in RVIZ! I then started reviewing the parameters:

z_resolution: 0.05
z_voxels: 16
max_obstacle_height: 2.0

At which point I realized that 0.05 * 16 = 0.8 meters. Which is shorter than my robot. So, the sensor was “off the map” - in the Z direction. Pesky 3d.

I updated the voxel configuration so that my map was indeed two meters tall and all my sensor data was now in the costmap.

z_resolution: 0.125
z_voxels: 16
max_obstacle_height: 2.0

Unfortunately, even with my 0.2 meter minimum obstacle height I was still getting stray noisy pixels causing the robot to navigate somewhat poorly at times. In particular, it decided to really come to a halt during a talk and demo to the Homebrew Robotics Club last week.

A Custom Costmap Layer

Setting the minimum obstacle height super high is really not a great idea to begin with. With the Fetch Mobile Manipulator we implemented a custom costmap layer that would find the ground plane using OpenCV and then split the cloud into clearing and marking pixels. This largely avoids the timing and calibration issues, although the marking pixels may be slightly off in their location in the costmap due to those timing and calibration issues. On the Fetch, we were able to get the minimum obstacle height of that moving sensor down to 0.06 meters. In addition, this layer subscribes to the depth image, rather than a 3d point cloud, which allows us to do certain pre-processing less expensively in 2d.

After the HBRC failures, I decided to port the FetchDepthlayer to ROS2. You can find it in the ubr1_navigation package. The initial port was pretty straight forward. The costmap_2d package hasn’t gotten too many updates, other than a nav2 prefix for the package and namespaces.

One interesting find was that the sensor_msgs/PointCloud message has been deprecated and slated for removal after Foxy. There are a number of places where the PointCloud interface was used a simple way to publish debug points (the message is simply an array of geometry_msgs/Point32 instead of the much more complicated PointCloud2 messages which has a variable set of fields and pretty much requires the use of a modifier and iterator to really fill or read). I decided to get rid of the deprecation notices and port to PointCloud2 for the debugging topics - you can see how much more complicated the code now looks.

Finally, as I started to test the code on the robot, I ran into a few further issues. Apparently, ROS2 does not just have Lifecyle Nodes, there are also Lifecycle Publishers. And nav2 uses them. And you need to call on_activate on them before publishing to them. You can see my final fixes in this commit.

A final improvement to the node was to remove the somewhat complicated (and I’m guessing quite slow) code that found outliers. Previously this was done by finding points in which less than seven neighbors were within 0.1m away, now I use cv::medianBlur on the depth image.

The image below shows the costmap filled in for a box that is shorter than my laser scanner, but detected by camera. The red and green points are the marking and clearing debug topics from the depth layer:

Test on Robots!

One of the more interesting moments occurred after I updated my sources for navigation2. Suddenly, the robot was unable to complete goals - it would get to the goal and then rotate back and forth and eventually give up. I ended up tracking down that a major bug had been introduced during a refactor which meant that when comparing the goal to the current pose they were not in the same frame! The goal would be in the map frame, but the local controller was taking robot pose in the odom frame. The only time a goal could succeed was if the origins of the map and odom frame were aligned (which, coincidentally, probably happens a lot in simulation). My fix was pretty simple and the bug never made it into released Debians in Foxy, but it did exist for almost a month on the main branch.

Tuning the Local Controller

As a side effect of the goal bug, I ended up spending quite a bit of time tuning the local controller (thinking that it was responsible for the issues I was seeing). Both the overall architecture and the parameters involved are somewhat different from ROS1.

Let’s first mention that the controller server implements a high pass filter on the odometry topic to which it subscribes. This filter has three parameters: min_x_velocity_threshold, min_y_velocity_threshold, and min_yaw_velocity_threshold. While debugging, I ended up updating the descriptions of these parameters in the navigation documentation because I was at first trying to use them as the minimum velocities to control, since the original description was simply “Minimum velocity to use”.

The controller server still loads the controller as a plugin, but also has separate plugins for the goal checker and progress checker. The SimpleProgressChecker is pretty straight forward, it has two parameters and requires that the robot move at least X distance in T time (default 0.5 meters in 10 seconds).

The SimpleGoalChecker implements the goal check that previously was part of the controller itself. As in ROS1, it has three parameters:

  • xy_goal_tolerance is how close the robot needs to get to the goal. By default, the xy tolerance is set quite course. I tightened that tolerance up on the UBR-1.
  • stateful is similar to “latching” in ROS1 stack. Once the robot has met the xy_goal_tolerance, it will stop moving and simply rotate in place.
  • yaw_goal_tolerance is how close to the heading is required to succeed.

One of the enhancements of DWB over the DWA implementation is that it splits each of the individual elements of trajectory scoring into a separate plugin. This makes it easier to enable or disable individual elements of the scoring, or add custom ones. For instance, you could entirely remove the PathAlign element if it is causing issues and you don’t care if your robot actually follows the path.

There are two major hurdles in tuning the DWB controller: balancing the path and goal scores, and balancing smooth operation versus actually getting to the end of the trajectory (as opposed to just stuttering towards the goal slowly). I think the first one is well tuned on the UBR-1, but I’ve not yet fixed the stuttering to the goal well enough to be happy with the controller. You can find that several others have also struggled to get the performance they were seeking.

Next Steps

Now that I’ve got navigation mostly working, the next big hurdle is manipulation. I have MoveIt2 compiled, but am still working through the requisite launch files and other updates to make things work for my robot. And then onto the real goal of every roboticist: having my robot fetch a beer.