ROPS Will Be The Board X86 Robot Builders Are Waiting For

If your robot has outgrown a Raspberry Pi and only the raw computing power of an x86 motherboard will suffice, you are likely to encounter a problem with its interfaces. The days of ISA cards are long gone, and a modern PC is not designed to easily talk to noisy robot hardware. Accessible ports such as USB can have interfaces connected to them, but suffer from significant latency in the process.

A solution comes from ROPS, or Robot on a PCI-e Stick, a card that puts an FPGA on a blazing-fast PCI-e card that provides useful real-world interfaces such as CAN and RS485 and a pile of I/O lines as well as an IMU, barometer, and GPS. If you think you may have seen it before then you’d be right, it was one of the first-round winners of the Open Hardware Design Challenge. They’re very much still at the stage of having an FPGA dev board and working out the software so there aren’t any ROPS boards to look at yet, but this is a project that’s going somewhere, and definitely one to watch.

29 thoughts on “ROPS Will Be The Board X86 Robot Builders Are Waiting For

    1. What kind of thing are you looking for? This project is taking up all my free time at the moment, but I love robots, and I’m always on the lookout for more cool robotics projects.

      ROPS is solving a specific problem we had in college working on robots. We needed a lot of compute power, but also low-latency I/O to control actuators. There are some solutions to that problem on the market now, but the ones we found weren’t well supported, aren’t open source, and are extremely expensive.

        1. I tried making these at home. Anecdotal evidence ahead: unless it was under a significant amount of tension, the “actuator” would self destruct. And the stroke length was not an appreciable amount of the length. Perhaps, if an enclosure to wrap it on itself could fix that first issue, but I found them extremely temperamental. My test rig included a text book to keep it under tension, and a handheld cooking (butane) torch for heat.

    1. Patents, keeping things in a certain ecosystem, arguably legacy compatibility? It really shouldn’t matter that much given there are multiple competitors to the x86 architecture that work quite well and at price points that are much more reasonable and also are actually supported.

    2. The arch doesn’t matter by itself, but the cheapest way to get lots of computing horsepower is an x86 based-system. The problem is that it’s really hard to find a modern x86 motherboard with I/O that’s useful for robotics. The goal of ROPS is to provide that I/O.

  1. I inadvertently fat finger reported a comment as inappropriate. I don’t remember anything wrong with the comment. It’s only crime was in being where I put my thumb when scrolling up or down the comment using my phone.
    Could we please get the ability to either have a dialog box pop up allowing us the opportunity to verify before we report, or allow us to toggle the Repport Comment?

  2. Plenty of mini PCI-e to can adaptors… also RS485. Available from the usual China sources.

    Now if someone was to put the movidius USB onto a mPCIe I would be interested.

  3. “If your robot has outgrown a Raspberry Pi…”

    I thought that the RPi 3B+ with

    CPU: 1.4GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU
    WIFI: Dual-band 802.11ac wireless LAN (2.4GHz and 5GHz ) and Bluetooth 4.2
    Camera interface
    DSI interface
    Ethernet: Gigabit Ethernet (over USB 2.0) (max 300 Mbps).
    Power-over-Ethernet support (with separate PoE HAT).
    Improved PXE network and USB mass-storage booting.
    Thermal management
    Video: Yes – VideoCore IV 3D.
    Full-size HDMI
    Audio: Yes
    USB 2.0: 4 ports
    GPIO: 40-pin
    Operating system support: Linux and Unix
    Mass Storage on board: provided by 32 GB (max) SD card.

    …would provide all the computational power anyone would ever need.

    Ever hear of a 2-GHz octa-core Odroid XU-4, with 2GB of RAM and up to 64 GB of eMMC? And true Gigabit Ethernet, and USB 3.0 ports?
    I know; I know…but it’s $59.00, and therefore can’t be compared to a Raspberry Pi…and
    Absolutely correct!

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