Intrinsic’s Purchase of Open Robotics Demonstrates its Dedication Towards Nurturing an Open Source Intelligent Robotics Ecosystem

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1Q 2023 | IN-6890

Alphabet’s Intrinsic acquired Open Robotics as part of its wider goal to achieve an intelligent robotics open source solution. Nonetheless, the foundations of ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF are expected to remain independent. This insight touches upon how Open Robotics may benefit from this change, Intrinsic’s potential intentions behind this move, and outlooks to preserve originality of Open Robotics.

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Intrinsic Acquires the Company behind ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF


Alphabet-backed company, Intrinsic, recently acquired Open Source Robotics Corporation (OSRC) in December 2022. OSRC is the business that pioneered the Robotics Operating System (ROS), Gazebo, and Open Robotics Middleware Framework (Open-RMF) software. These are publicly available, not for profit, open source software platforms for the robotics community to learn from, experiment on, and contribute to. ROS enables the programming of robots; Gazebo serves as a robotics simulation software; and the Open-RMF platform facilitates interoperability of robotic systems. This purchase by Intrinsic is the company’s second acquisition in the span of less than a year, following their takeover of Vicarious, another robotics software company in April 2022. Despite this, it has been announced that ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF will continue its management under Open Robotics as an independent entity and access to their resources will remain open and free for the robotics ecosystem and community. This is particularly assuring for Open Robotics programs, like ROS for instance, which has experienced immense growth between 2021 and 2022. ROS and ROS 2 accumulated more than 47.1 million downloads in 2022, a 7.45% increase from 43.8 million in 2021. The number of programming packages on ROS servers also grew from 19,562 to 23,614 in the same time period. It is therefore hopeful that ROS and the other Open Robotics platforms will continue to thrive with this acquisition.

A Quid Pro Quo for Both Intrinsic and Open Robotics


In June 2021, Alphabet, the parent company behind Google, launched Intrinsic to boost interoperability and accessibility of open source robotics resources in the industrial robot ecosystem. Though they have been relatively silent about research and development of any products since the company was established, they are dedicated to building an intelligent robotics software that connects hardware and software providers; for example, equipment providers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) experts, with appropriate businesses and needs. This led to the acquisition of Vicarious last year, an intelligent robotics system integrator that adopts AI in automation in warehousing and logistics. In this regard, Vicarious contributed towards Intrinsic’s goal of intelligent robotics software. Open Robotics, on the other hand, will contribute to Intrinsic’s wider goal of curating a resource library for the robotics ecosystem as Open Robotics advocates an open community for experts and users to contribute and learn from one another.

Intrinsic’s new purchase of Open Robotics will likely have positive effects on both companies. First, Open Robotics is likely to have more funding from Alphabet. Alphabet has been a great proponent of open-source solutions and holds a track record of investments in robotic and AI projects. On the other hand, Intrinsic may profit from Open Robotics’ expertise to develop their software, while Open Robotics may have more financial means to address the challenges of their ROS platforms. These include the lack of security and process standardization of solutions on ROS, lack of support for parallel or distributed computing across systems and compatibility in the testing of robotic systems (i.e., detection and resolution of bugs or errors). For instance, a potential collaboration between Intrinsic and ROS could be the integration of TensorFlow, an AI open-source framework backed by Alphabet, with ROS to bring about distributed and parallel processing capabilities. Furthermore, the new distribution of ROS 2, scheduled for May 2023, may contain some developments provided by support from Intrinsic. Altogether, ABI Research reckons that this acquisition will be beneficial for both Intrinsic and Open Robotics.

Open Robotics Should Be Allowed to Retain its Creative Independence


Efforts to build an integrated robotics partner network have been growing recently. In the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, for example, South Korean system integrator Asetec entered an agreement with RightHand Robotics, a robot solutions provider based in the United States, to provide automation in logistics in South Korea. Similarly, Kassow Robots from Denmark has partnered with automation and systems integration experts, SH Tech Co. Ltd, in South Korea, to service the cobot market in Asia-Pacific. Given the capabilities of Vicarious, alongside the open-source platforms knowledge provided by Open Robotics, ABI Research anticipates that Intrinsic could marry the strong capabilities of the two companies to build an open source library and nurture an ecosystem to encourage and promote more partnerships in the long term.

Regardless, there is always a risk of Intrinsic affecting the operations and management of Open Robotics with this new change. This includes potential alterations in the openness and accessibility of ROS, Gazebo, and Open-RMF platforms, as well as changes to any product offerings that Open Robotics chooses to pursue. However, considering that Alphabet is a big proponent of open source solutions in robotics and AI, as seen in its investment in Intrinsic, TensorFlow, and Verily, ABI Research contends that perhaps this takeover is a reflection of Alphabet and Intrinsic’s dedication towards creating an open ecosystem and market for industrial robotics to thrive. Additionally, being backed by a big, financially influential company such as Alphabet will boost Open Robotics credibility in improving their existing products. Interestingly, a deal such as this between Intrinsic and Open Robotics is reminiscent of the acquisition of GitHub, a collaborative software development platform, by Microsoft in 2018. With funding provided by Microsoft, GitHub was able to transform and expand its product portfolio and tap into Microsoft’s sales expertise to bring in more customers while retaining its creative independence. For a successful symbiotic relationship such as Microsoft and GitHub to be established, Intrinsic should tap into Open Robotics’ expertise to achieve their goals but also provide the proficiencies for Open Robotics to grow and develop as its own entity. Time will tell, however, if this is to be the case.