An Introduction to ROS Development

In the first activity, you will get familiar with ROS and learn how to build and bundle an application that you can use in an AWS RoboMaker simulation. Then, you will launch a simulation job with that application. Effectively testing ROS applications through simulations is hard. Robotics developers do not always have access to physical equipment (cost, size etc.) and would not be able to reproduce all of the real-world environments their robots may encounter. You can also do interesting things like train a machine learning model in simulation.

AWS RoboMaker makes it easy to run your ROS application in a cloud-based simulation. When you run an AWS RoboMaker simulation job, you have access to 4 core tools to interact with your running application:

  • Gazebo lets you build 3D worlds with robots, terrain, and other objects. It also has has a physics engine for modeling illumination, gravity, and other forces. Robotics developers use Gazebo to evaluate and test robots in different scenarios, often times more quickly than using physical robots and scenarios. Gazebo also makes it easier to test other aspects of your robot like error handling, battery life, navigation, and machine learning algorithms.
  • rviz is a 3d visualization tool for ROS applications. It provides a view of your robot model, capture sensor information from robot sensors, and replay captured data. It can display data from camera, lasers, from 3D and 2D devices including pictures and point clouds.
  • rqt hosts a number of different plugins for visualizing ROS information. Multiple plugins can be displayed on a custom dashboard, providing a unique view of your robot. rqt includes many useful plugins and provides a framework to write custom plugins.

Finally, you have a terminal to run commands in the simulation job. First, let’s setup our development environment

Setup your Development Environment

  1. Open a new tab to the AWS RoboMaker console (Services->RoboMaker->right-click->new tab)

  2. Create a development environment (Development->Development environments->Create environment) and complete the following:

    • Name: workshop or something descriptive
    • Instance type: m4.large
    • Select ROS Melodic as the pre-installed ROS distribution.
    • Choose the VPC (default), and a subnet for your development environment
    • Click Creates
  3. This opens the environment’s detail page, click Open environment, which will open a new browser tab with the Cloud9 IDE.

    This may take a few minutes to complete, but when the creation process has completed, you will see something similar to this:


    The Welcome page provides helpful information to get started, but for now we are not going to use it, so click the X on the tab to close. Take a look at the roboMakerSettings.json file. This contains the configurations (such as which S3 buckets and IAM roles) to use with AWS RoboMaker. The IDE is broken down into four sections:


    • (1) The AWS RoboMaker menu provide quick access to common actions. It is updated when the roboMakerSettings.json is modified later in this task.
    • (2) Any files and folders will reside here, and can be selected and double-clicked to open in the editor pane (#4).
    • (3) The lower section is an adjustable pane for creating or monitoring command line operations. ROS developers work in this area to build, test, and interact with local code.
    • (4) This is the main editor pane.

Clone the Robot Application and Install Dependencies

The first step is to open the AWS RoboMaker IDE and clone the AWS-enabled JetBot ROS application.

  1. Open the AWS CloudFormation console at

  2. In CloudFormation console and write down the CloudFormation name that looks similar to mod-xxxxxxx36e49dc. You will need this to run an automation script later to set up RoboMaker IDE enviornment. cloudformation name

  3. Open the RoboMaker IDE and navigate to the terminal and clone this Git repo to the development machine:

    # change to the environment directory 
    $ cd ~/environment 
    $ git clone jetbot
    1. In the terminal window, change to the jetbot/assets directory and run the install script.
    # Run to install prerequisite 
    $ cd ~/environment/jetbot/assets/scripts 
    $ chmod +x
    $ sudo ./ <your CloudFormation name>
    • What is happening here? This shell script ( is going to setup a few key dependencies for us today. It will:
      • Generate a set of x.509 certificates to connect with AWS IoT over MQTT
      • Configure the roboMakerSettings.json file with the right IAM permissions and an Amazon S3 bucket to store your ROS applications and logs.
      • Add a new custom ROS sources list to include some of the extra libraries we are using (such as the motor controller).

Run in Simulation and Explore

  1. In RoboMaker IDE menu, click Run, Workflow, select JetBot Simulation - Build and Bundle (this process takes about 10 minutes). As the name suggests, it will compile/build the ROS application and bundle it into a tar file for simulation.

    • Why are we doing this? There are a couple of build tools that developers use with ROS. The one that we will use with AWS RoboMaker is called colcon. However, in addition to your application files, you will also need to bundle your application with the necessary dependencies. This includes any libraries you are using in your ROS application as well as the system dependencies. The tool colcon bundle collects all of these dependencies as well as your built application and packages them up in an easy-to-deploy .tar file. A workflow is simply a set of shell commands (ex: colcon build and colcon bundle) that the IDE will run when you use the dropdown menus. A preconfigured workflow is included with the sample application in the roboMakerSettings.json file.
  2. Make sure the Colcon Bundle tab displays “Process exited with code: 0”. This indicates the build and bundle process has completed.

Simulation menu

  1. Click Run, Launch Simulation, JetBot Circle Simulation. This will launch the application in simulation enviornment with the Jetbot rotating in circles.

  2. When simulation status displays (running), explore the enviornment in Gazebo by clicking on the Simulation menu, Applications, Gazebo. Use your mouse scroll wheel to zoom in and out of the enviornment. This simple application demonstrates that you have all the components configured and installed correctly. Now you can move on to the next simulation, teleop, which allows you to remote control the JetBot.

simulation gazebo

  1. Stop the simulation from Simulation (Running) menu

  2. In RoboMaker IDE menu, click Run, Launch Simulation, JetBot Teleop Simulation - This will launch the application in simulation enviornment where you can drive the Jetbot with the teleop client app. When simulation status displays (running), explore the enviornment in Gazebo by clicking on the Simulation menu, Applications, Gazebo. Use your mouse scroll wheel to zoom in and out of the enviornment. Be sure to continue with the following steps to download the joy stick client application to remote control the JetBot.

  3. Locate the file in jetbot/assets/teleop folder

teleop app

  1. Download the zip file in the file explorer and unzip it on the desktop
  2. Open the robogui.html file in a browser and make sure the connection status states Connected
  3. Use your mouse to move the joy stick and drive the Jetbot in Gazebo
  4. Stop the simulation from Simulation (Running) menu

Clean-up Reminder

Note for those running in their own AWS accounts and are not using a workshop code:

In this activity, you created a some resources (Development environment, CloudWatch logs, and S3 objects) that incure cost. If you are not continuing on with the next sections of the workshop, remember to go to the clean-up steps and remove these resources to stop any potential costs for occurring.