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Conman is a controller and state estimator manager built on top of the Oroocos Toolchain and designed to create a common platform for sharing robot controllers and state estimators. Conman enforces additional constraints on when and how components can be running in order to prevent errors and improve robustness when switching components in and out of the control loop at runtime.


This tool is meant for robotics researchers who wish to do real-time robot state estimation and control within the Orocos real-time toolkit (RTT). While this is a ROS-independent framework, tools for ROS integration are provided in the conman_ros package.


Conman not trying to solve the world. Conman is just trying to get rich quick. As such, it is designed with the following goals:

  • Provide a common interface for running Orocos components for robot state estimation and control.
  • Provide a more-constrained modeling paradigm for robot state estimation and control.
  • Determine the computational scheduling of these blocks from their data flow connections and desired execution rates.
  • Enable external manipulation of the running set of estimators and controllers so that single blocks and groups of blocks can be enabled and disabled at runtime.
  • Provide a special component, not a special framework to perform these roles.


Schemes: Serialized Control, Hardware, and Estimation Model Execution

A Conman "scheme" models the data flow of and execution constraints on a set of RTT components connected by data flow ports. The scheme is an RTT component, itself, and when executed at runtime, it serially executes a subset of its peers according to their input and output data flow ports.

The execution schedule guarantees that all inputs to a given component are generated before said component, and each component is executed in a single update of the scheme. This schedule corresponds to a topological sort of the data flow graph. As such, cycles in data flow need to be explicitly broken through "latching." Latching the data connections from component A to component B means that the data that component B reads at cycle (k) will be the data that component A wrote at cycle (k-1).

Scheme Internals

Internally, the scheme is represented by three graphs:

  1. Data Flow Graph (DFG): An exact directed graph model of the data flow between the scheme members. Each vertex represents an RTT task, and each arc represets a set of data flow connections between two tasks. This graph may be cyclic.
  2. Execution Scheduling Graph (ESG): The DFG with "latched" edges removed. This graph is always acyclic, and is used to compute the execution order of the scheme members via standard topological sort.
  3. Runtime Conflict Graph (RCG): An undirected graph of members where adjacent members cannot be run simultaneously due to some resource conflict.

Scheme Construction

Components are added to and removed from a scheme procedurally. Each time a component is added, the scheme regnerates its model of the data flow and conflict relationships between all the scheme members.

Currently, the scheme topology can only be changed when it is not in the Running state. In the future, the scheme model will be double-buffered so that a copy of it can be modified at runtime and then swapped in real-time with the active one.

Edge Latching

If the addition of a component to the scheme adds a cycle to the data flow graph, one of the connections in the cycle must be latched before the scheme can be executed in an unambiguous order. Latches are also set procedurally.

Component Grouping

Components in the scheme can be grouped together under alphanumeric labes (and groups can contain other groups). Groups are useful for starting and stopping multiple scheme components simultaneously at runtime. The manipulation of groups does not change the graph topology.

Scheme Orchestration at Runtime

Components can be started and stopped synchonously with the execution of the entire scheme at runtime. If numerous components are specified, they are started in topological order, and stopped in reverse-topological order.

Designing Components for Use in Conman

Conman imposes a few constraints on the design of RTT components. For components to be used with Conman, they need the following properties:

  • The component should be compatible with the SlaveActivity execution pattern. Each component added to a Scheme is assigned a SlaveActivity which enables it to be executed in the Scheme's thread.
  • The component's startHook(), updateHook(), and stopHook() should be realtime-safe and not block for long durations. Components should either compute their results with bounded latency, or coordinate without locking with a separate activity.
  • Data ports should only be written to and read from in a component's startHook() and updateHook(). The assumption of the sched

Running Components at Different Rates

The Conman scheme will run at a fixed rate (the rate at which you want to control the fastest hardware in the scheme), but you may want to have components which run slower than that. If this is the case, then they can still run at integral multiples of the loop rate.

Each member of the scheme has a minimum execution period associated with it. By default, this minimum execution period is 0.0 seconds. A minimum execution period of 0.0 seconds means that the block will be executed as fast as the scheme, itself.

Common RTT Port Interfaces


We do not want to define yet another datatype or message specification. Instead, we want to take existing datatypes (Eigen, KDL, ROS, etc) and annotate them with relevant metadata needed to make sense of them. Essentially, we want any given port to be self-describing.

For example, a port in joint-space should provide both the number of degrees of freedom of the joint group, as well as the ordered list of joint names, and a port in cartesian-space should also provide the name of its origin frame.

Joint-Space Quantity
Cartesian-Space Quantity


Running a Conman Scheme


Writing a State Estimation Block


Managing a Scheme At Runtime


Running Conman In Gazebo


Loading a ros_control-based Controller Into Conman


Loading a ros_control-based Hardware Interface Into Conman


Motivating Use Cases

Teaching: My First Controller™


Controller Switching at Runtime


Automatic State Estimation Switching at Runtime


Visual Feedback for Robotic Manipulator Control


Future Work

Running Multiple Schemes

Since Conman schemes do not own the RTT components involved in them, it's possible to run multiple schemes either in parallel or serialized. Of course there's nothing to worry about if the two schemes do not interact, but if they do, you can still run them in parallel...


Conman is a Robot State Estimator and Controller Manager for use in Orocos RTT and ROS







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