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Oct 4, 2020

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ArloBot Package for ROS


This package also includes: 0. An all in one install script that should get things as close to working as possible by running one install script.

  1. A Python and Curses based Serial Interface testing utility to help diagnose problems and confirm your hardware is working.
  2. A set of Bash script utilities to help in working with the robot.
  3. A set of Node.js based utilities to automate many repeated tasks.
  4. A Node.js based Server to run the robot at all times, along with:
  5. A React based web GUI to interact with the robot.
  6. Other fun things like Twilio and Pushover integration.

Mobile Friendly Web Interface

Alt text

Curses Serial Testing Interface:

Alt text

  • A Python Curses based serial communications test program allows testing of ALL Propeller board functions over serial with zero use of ROS to more easily ensure the hardware is working before starting ROS.

Current Status and my To Do List

Gmapping and AMCL have been removed in favor of Slam Toolbox for mapping.

  • Gmapping is no longer maintained.

DWA Local Planner has been removed in favor of teb_local_planner for path planning.

  • Teb Local Planner is much better behaved for me.
  • It is able to back up, which makes routing much better.
  • It seems to work very well with entirely default tuning.

The Arlo Robot System by Parallax has been discontinued. At this moment there are 7 kits left for sale, so this project's usefulness slowly grows to an end, although my personal implementation, which has always been the primary focus of this repository, will live on.

I am also working on hardware and software design to translate what I have learned and built here to a more generic robot platform using more readily available "off the shelf" parts.


Build a Robot!

First you need to build a robot!

Parts List

  • Robot
  • On board computer
  • 3D Sensor

The Arlo Robotic Platform is a complete kit, which I recommend buying from Parallax: Arlo Complete Robot System

You will also need a few other items (laptop and 3D sensor) which I have some details about on the Parts List Wiki Page


Follow the excellent Arlo Robot Assembly Guide at Parallax to both assemble and test your Arlo Robot platform.
Be sure you have fully understood and run all of their tests before moving on with using ROS.

Check out my blog: ArloBot Build Index

And also jump on the Parallax Forums and start searching and asking questions!

Because the Arlo platform comes as a kit, building it should be pretty straight forward, but we will all help you out with any problems you run into.
Ask questions in the Parallax Forums, on GitHub, on the ROS for Arlobot Google Group, and on my blog.

Once your robot is built, you can use this package.


Arlobot operates on ROS Noetic which requires Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.

If you put a fresh copy of Ubuntu 18.04 LTS on your robot's laptop then you can use the quick install script below.

Quick Install:

There is now a script to install everything. Just run:

bash <(wget -qO- --no-cache -o /dev/null

Be sure to read the instructions that the script will print at the end about editing the config files in ~/.arlobot/

To update your code just run the same script again, and it will pull down and compile anything new without erasing custom settings.

Propeller Code

Please note that you will need the code to run on your Propeller board. This is stored in the "PropellerCodeForArloBot" folder. Details on the Propeller code and setup are here:

You can run the script to automatically install the required code to your Propeller Activity Board.

Propeller Serial Interface Test

Before you start trying to get ROS running, but after you have loaded the C code onto the Propeller Activity board, use the PropellerSerialTest to test the hardware and interface.

Place the robot up on blocks, so it won't drive into anything if it goes nuts, and then run:
This provides an interface to send all controls, commands, and settings directly to the Propeller Activity Board without involving ROS. Use this to test everything and make sure your robot's hardware is functioning before you start playing with ROS.

Serial Test Usage

  1. Make sure the robot is on blocks off of the floor so when the motors run it will stay still and not run into anything.
  2. On the robot run ~/catkin_ws/src/ArloBot/scripts/ It will not start moving or doing anything yet, but it may soon!
  3. The Proximity Sensors, that is the PING and/or InfraRed (IR) sensors, can cause the robot to move to avoid obstacles or refuse to move when commanded to. The bottom row of the status shows their measurements. The second from the bottom row shows if the Propeller Activity Board's built in safety code has determined if it is safe to move forward or backward or not at all. There is also the line Escaping:False which indicates if the code is attempting to move to get away from something too close.
    Since we are on blocks, let's turn this off, so it won't run the motors unless we tell it to. This will prevent it from just driving the wheels in response to you or something close to your test setup.
    Pres s for Settings and then a to ignore All proximity sensors.
    The line next to Settings that says ignoreAllProximitySensors:No will change to ignoreAllProximitySensors:Yes.
  4. Next note along the Settings line that pluggedIn is Yes. This will prevent the Propeller Activity Board code from sending any commands to the motor. Normally the only way to override this is through ROS. It is a safety measure that prevents the robot from ever moving if ROS is not running. We will override this now. If you left the Settings menu press s to get back in. Then p for Plugged in to turn that off. pluggedIn:Yes will change to pluggedIn:Yes Now the robot can move.
  5. Now q to get out of Settings and m to send Move commands. Use the letters i to make the wheels move the robot forward.
    ** IT WORKS! ** You should probably test all the functions available, but this has at least shown you how to use the test program and that your hardware is working. You can use the Sensor output data to ensure your sensors work and diagnose issues with your hardware or code settings.
    There is also the ability to send Test packets to the robot to check for serious serial errors.
    Note that if you do the r - Run speed test there will be errors. It basically tests the ability for the code to slow down the transfer rate until the connection is stable, so errors will pop up as it attempts to go too fast and then backs off and retries. This is normal.

Quick Start of Entire Robot:

The default install script will actually set up the robot website to start automatically on system boot.
You can see the status of this by running: pm2 log
You will even see the URL to use printed in the log output.

If the Web Interface is not already running, you can start it by hand by running:


and point your web browser at the URL it gives you.

If you use Ubuntu there should also be a desktop icon on the robot's desktop which you can run to do the same thing and bring up this web page on the robot itself.

Workstation via x11docker

If you want to run RVIZ or other ROS tools from a remote Linux workstation, you do not have to install ROS on it. Instead, try using x11docker via this setup script:

bash <(wget -qO- --no-cache -o /dev/null

Then use these commands to run various remote functions via Docker:

The above works for me on Ubuntu 19.10.

Updating Code

To update your code just run the same script again, and it will pull down and compile anything new without erasing custom settings.

Full Arlobot Setup Instructions:

Complete setup and usage instructions are at my blog:

Edit your robot's Description

roscd arlobot_ros/urdf
and then read the Readme.txt file there!


Edit ~/.arlobot/arlobot.yaml
Set monitorACconnection: True to have ROS monitor the power connection and FREEZE
the robot whenever the laptop is plugged into AC power

If you want to disable AC connection monitoring in real time, while ROS is running, run:
rosparam set /arlobot/monitorACconnection False

NOTE: Robot may be stuck or moving in response to sensors

The Infrared, PING, and "plugged in" state of the robot can prevent it from moving or cause it to move by itself.
Once ROS is running, if you want to ensure that ONLY ROS input causes movement, and that the robot responds to ROS even if the PING or IR sensors sense an obstacle, you can quickly tell it to ignore all sensor input by running:
Notice that you must run that AFTER ROS is started, and run it every time you start ROS when testing with sensors ignored.

Basic ROS based usage instructions

Note that you can do everything meaningful via the Web Interface. These instructions and scripts are here for reference, debugging, and learning.
Depending on what you want to do there are different ways to "bring up" the robot with just ROS.
These are the "recipes" that are well tested so far:

Basic TeleOp with 3D sensor use

roslaunch arlobot_ros minimal.launch
# In a new Terminal:
roslaunch arlobot_ros keyboard_teleop.launch
# In a new Terminal:
roslaunch arlobot_ros rplidar.launch
# From a Terminal in the desktop (NOT over SSH):
roslaunch arlobot_ros view_navigation.launch
Do this:
  • Set your Global Options->Fixed Frame to "odom
  • Look at the Scan output to see if it is producing an image of the room.
  • Drive and see if the robot appears to move properly on the grid.

Remote Control with an xBox 360 Joystick

roslaunch arlobot_ros minimal.launch
# In a new Terminal:
rosparam set /joystick/dev "/dev/input/js0"
roslaunch arlobot_ros xbox360_teleop.launch

Slam Toolbox (SLAM Map building)
# In a new Terminal:
roslaunch arlobot_ros slam_toolbox.launch
# From a Terminal in the desktop (NOT over SSH):
roslaunch arlobot_ros view_navigation.launch
# When you are done, save your map!
rosservice" call /slam_toolbox/serialize_map "${HOME}/.arlobot/rosmaps/my_map1"
Do this:
  • Ensure obstacles in the 3D Camera view are shown in the local cost map
  • Use the "2D Nav Goal" to set destinations for the robot to navigate to.
  • Once you have built a map you are happy with, save it.
Note you can also run these scripts to accomplish the same thing more easily:
# and to save the map:

Localization (Navigating the map we built above
# In a new Terminal:
export MAP_FILE_NAME="${HOME}/.arlobot/rosmaps/my_map1"
roslaunch arlobot_ros slam_toolbox.launch
# From a Terminal in the desktop (NOT over SSH):
roslaunch arlobot_ros view_navigation.launch

Please report an issue for any problems or if you need me to clarify anything!
Ask questions in the Parallax Forums, on GitHub, on the ROS for Arlobot Google Group, and on my blog. We will write more documentation as we answer questions, and I hope you will also write instructions when you do your build!

Script Based Operation

All of the functions above also have quick launch scripts. cd ~/catkin_ws/src/ArloBot/scripts

Start ROS

Start just the most basic pieces
Start everything:

Basic TeleOp

Automatically unplug itself

Remote Control with an xBox 360 Joystick

This is built into the script.

Slam Toolbox (SLAM Map building)
View with rviz:
Save the map:

Slam Toolbox Localization Mode (Navigating the map we built above)

List available maps:
Load the map:
View with rviz:

Shut down ROS and everything related to it

The scripts call ROS files, so you can modify the ROS files listed in the scripts to modify how ROS operates.

Note that xBox 360 Controller operation is always live when ROS is running this way.

Web Based Operation

Finally, the entire robot can be operated from the web.
Go to http://<robot_ip_address>:8080/

All the basic robot operations are available.

  • Use the Startup/Shutdown Panel to start ROS.
  • Use the Navigation Panel to:
    • Make a new Map
    • Load an existing Map
    • Add waypoints to a map
  • Use the Remote Control Panel to control the robot from the website
    • This works well from a smartphone
  • Explore all the other options.

The website uses the same scripts from above, so you can modify them, or the ROS files that they call, to modify how ROS operates.

Note that xBox 360 Controller operation is always live when ROS is running from the website.

Convenience Scripts

Look in the scripts folder for a set of handy scripts for starting up and shutting down various aspects of Arlobot.


See the RobotTuningNotes for guidance on tuning robot parameters.

Freenect warnings

These warnings are normal if you are using a Kinect. You can ignore them.

[ WARN] [1564761452.151374277]: Could not find any compatible depth output mode for 1. Falling back to default depth output mode 1.
[ WARN] [1564761452.222812571]: Camera calibration file /home/chrisl8/.ros/camera_info/rgb_B00$64729659136B.yaml not found.
[ WARN] [1564761452.230197119]: Using default parameters for RGB camera calibration.   [ WARN] [1564761452.230247519]: Camera calibration file /home/chrisl8/.ros/camera_info/depth_B00364729659136B.yaml not found.
[ WARN] [1564761452.230264691]: Using default parameters for IR camera calibration.

Testing Kinect

roslaunch freenect_launch freenect.launch
rosrun rqt_image_view rqt_image_view

Pick /camera/depth/image_rect

Testing ASUS Xtion

roslaunch openni2_launch openni2.launch
rosrun rqt_image_view rqt_image_view

Pick /camera/depth/image_rect

HB-25 Motor Controller Support Gone!

Parallax has updated the Arlo platform to use their new DHB-10 Dual H-Bridge controller.
My robot now uses the DHB-10 motor controller.
Unfortunately I do not have time to support two controllers, especially when I only have one. (If I had money and time to build a second robot, maybe I could.)
If you have HB-25 controllers, you can try using the last release that I made that still supported them here:
Old Propeller Code Release


All code contributions are greatly welcomed! I almost always accept pull requests. Worst case, I accept it, find an issue, and fix it, but even code that I have to fix up is better than code I have to write from scratch!
Feel free to use this repository for Hacktoberfest or other code contribution events, or just to get your feet wet using git. I'm happy to get spelling corrections and documentation improvements.
I use prettier on my JavaScript code, Black on my Python code, and shfmt on my Bash code to format it. However, I won't let code formatting prevent me from accepting a pull request. I can tidy it up later.

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