Building Robotics and Haptic Systems with RTI Connext DDS

RTI Connext® DDS is an ideal foundation technology and a connectivity mechanism for highly resilient and responsive robotic and haptic systems. These systems often need to operate in harsh and unpredictable conditions.

Any complex robot is a diverse set of autonomous, semi-autonomous and human controlled modules, all working closely together as a single cohesive system of interoperating parts. The human operators often need to control the robots across very large distances, over unreliable network transports. For these reasons, the future of robotics is distributed, requiring technology like RTI Connext DDS to support communications over long distances.


What do Mars exploration and Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery (MIRS) have in common? In some ways, the technology and communication requirements couldn’t seem more different.

RTI Connext DDS Offers Proven Readiness for High-Performance and High-Precision Robotics 

The features of RTI Connext DDS make it a good foundation for development of robotics and haptic systems :

  • Innovative data-centric connectivity model that integrates the wide range of demanding robotic system requirements
  • Low latency with real-time Quality of Service (QoS)
  • Proven integration of a fast local control loop with secure connectivity over long distances and with cloud infrastructure
  • Ability to enable reliable systems operation over low-bandwidth communication links with long transmission delays
  • Extremely scalable: suitable for increasingly large-scale and complex systems
  • Highly resilient: systems are self-forming and self-healing with no single point of failure
  • Security with full support for confidentiality, integrity, and access control

How RTI Customers Use Connext DDS to Build Robotics and Haptic Systems

DLR MIRO Lab Transforms Robotic Surgery with RTI Connext DDS

DLR MIRO Lab surgical robot
Connext DDS enables a haptic feedback loop that connects the surgeon's touch — the most important of surgeons' skills — to remote surgical instruments.

The DLR MIRO Lab is making significant advances to conventional minimally invasive surgery (MIS), commonly referred to as keyhole surgery. MIS is performed through small incisions to maximize the preservation of healthy tissue. However, it is still essentially done by hand as the surgeon manipulates the surgical instruments through extended instruments.

MIRO Lab goals include giving surgeons a remote digital telepresence and teleoperation capabilities to execute the most demanding surgery. Operating on a beating heart requires the surgeon to perceive an almost static view of the heart to allow for greater control of highly precise directed cuts and stitches needed to perform the operation. This requires the camera and instruments to be automatically coordinated with the movement of the heart, and yet not disassociate the surgeon from the procedure at hand. The challenge of engineers is to give back the surgeon hand-eye capabilities and "feel" needed to operate remotely.

MIRO Lab adopted RTI Connext DDS because it delivered high-performance distributed communications with decoupled systems architecture. DDS provides the connectivity between the three MIRO robots, the endoscope, the surgeon's robot controllers and the surgeon's and technician's user interfaces. With Connext DDS, the engineers could implement a deterministic solution functioning at rates between 1 KHz and 3 KHz, thus enabling the development of the distributed haptic closed-control loops.

Learn how MIRO Lab transforms MIS with Connext DDS »

Connext DDS is the perfect tool because it enables us to create our vision of a versatile robotic surgery system for research. Its simple, data-centric architecture delivers a wonderful high-performance research platform with an extreme degree of flexibility and adaptability.

Stefan Jörg, Research Engineer of Robotics and Mechatronics Center, DLR

NASA Employs RTI Connext DDS to Enable Human-to-Robot Communication Between Land and Space

NASA Lunar Eletric Rover
NASA's HET prototype vehicles use Connext DDS. someday they will operate on extraterrestrial surfaces. Today, the prototypes are being tested in similar harsh environments on Earth.

NASA Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project is focused on improving NASA's ability to remotely control a variety of robotic arms, rovers and other devices. The project's goal is to take routine, highly repetitive, dangerous or long-duration tasks out of human hands and improve the way humans live and work in space. The HET project is testing robots remotely operated by controllers on the ground and by astronauts in space. Using robotics, researchers hope to coordinate human and robot activities more effectively to maximize crew safety, mission success and scientific return on investment. Despite variations in purpose, technology and design, all HET robots are equipped for both high-speed (local) and low-bandwidth delayed (satellite) communications.

NASA relies on the Connext DDS because of its inherent tolerance of time delay and loss of signal that occurs with signals sent between the vast distances separating the space station, satellites and land-based devices. As part of the telerobotics project, NASA Ames used RTI Connext DDS to test how astronauts on the space station could remotely operate planetary rovers.

Learn more about NASA's success with Connext DDS »

Getting four complex robots with very different designs to use a common data system was challenging. The Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems (DDS) standard supports very flexible service parameters. We found that we could adapt the middleware to the unique needs of each robotic system.

Terry Fong, Director of Intelligent Robotics Group, NASA Ames

The European Space Agency Builds Telerobotics Development Platform on Connext DDS

NASA astronaut Terry Virts on the International Space Station
NASA astronaut Terry Virts performing a space-to-Earth handshake from International Space Station using Connext DDS.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe's gateway to space. ESA's Telerobotics & Haptics Lab develops robotic technologies for advanced human-machine interaction, extending the human sense of touch to space and planetary environments. When research breakthroughs require development of complex distributed real-time systems, the infrastructure must be flexible so it can respond to unexpected research results, and reusable so the components can be readily re-architected into subsequent projects and demos.

The company uses RTI Connext DDS technology to build its telerobotics development platform. The platform, called Space Portable Application Network (SPAN), seamlessly delivers a robust, scalable and high-performance system while saving costs. It brings the researcher closer to the needs of the system which results in more informed research. The highly flexible platform supports a wide range of configuration, connectivity and performance requirements, from high-frequency real-time haptics loop to highly distributed human-to-robot and robot-to-robot communication over challenging data links. It also helps ESA independently develop as well as rapidly integrate and test all the distributed robot's components.

On June 3, 2015, André Schiele from the ESA "shook hands" with the NASA astronaut Terry Virts. Each of them felt the strength of the other's grip across space. What's remarkable about this historic handshake is that the two men were 5,000 kilometers apart – one on the International Space Station (ISS) and the other firmly on the ground here on Earth.

Learn how Connext DDS enabled a space-to-Earth handshake »

My team was tasked with building the first telerobotic control systems for use in space. The SPAN telerobotics development platform allows us to assess the technology we've developed. We selected RTI for this advanced platform because their product seamlessly manages real-time closed-loop control over a highly challenged communication link. Just as importantly, it delivered a framework on which to build an extremely flexible development environment ideally suited to mechatronic development teams.

Dr. André Schiele, Head of Telerobotics & Haptics Laboratory, ESA

Schilling Robotics Operates in the World's Most Difficult Environments, with Support from RTI Connext DDS

Heavy Duty Work Remote Operated Vehicles designed by FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics
Subsea Heavy Duty Work Remote Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are highly maneuverable. They are capable of operating at depths of up to 3000 m and carry up to 3000 Kg of special measurement or intervention tools.

FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics manufactures work-class remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and manipulator arms. Their systems operate in the world's most difficult environments, from the crushing pressure of the ocean floor to the high radiation of nuclear reactors and the toxic atmosphere within waste facilities. Schilling needs a reliable software framework. A critical fault in the software running these systems could result in the loss of very expensive equipment. At the same time, the software must be flexible and able to support rapid development across the company's many product lines.

Connext DDS ties together Schilling's distributed computing architectures by providing a common connectivity API across a wide variety of processors and operating systems. It eliminates the need for low-level network programming and helps Schilling's engineers add new components without modifying existing systems.

The RTI Consulting Organization worked with Schilling Robotics during critical phases of design, implementation and new product testing. The consulting experts provided product training and design analysis to make sure engineers were using the tools efficiently. They also provided programming talent. On several occasions, when Schilling needed additional support to meet their stringent delivery deadlines, the consulting organization assisted Schilling in designing and implementing the software control subsystems.

RTI’s Connext DDS and its predecessors have been integral to Schilling Robotics’ ROV control systems for decades. The publish/subscribe model and its implementation have provided powerful interprocess communication and coordination functions in a networked, multi-OS software architecture that spans UI to real-time control. Along the way, RTI has provided technical support and consulting services that have helped us achieve our product goals. We are glad that we made the choice to build our control system software with DDS as a core component.

Steve Cohan, Vice President, Controls Technology