Working with the Robot Operating System

21 May 2017

This article is a quickstart tutorial on how to use ROS, short for Robot Operating System. Since the creators can describe it much better than I can, to give a description I am just going to lift a quote from the website: “It is a collection of tools, libraries, and conventions that aim to simplify the task of creating complex and robust robot behavior across a wide variety of robotic platforms.”

This tutorial will get the average user up and running with ROS!


Step 1: Download and Set Up

First, we need Homebrew to download and install most of our dependencies. If you don’t already have Homebrew, go here to set it up.

Then, we will install cmake:

$ brew update
$ brew install cmake

Then, we will install further dependencies:

$ brew tap ros/deps
$ brew tap osrf/simulation   
$ brew tap homebrew/versions 
$ brew tap homebrew/science 

Those dependencies include Gazebo, a robot simulation package, SDFormat, an XML file that describes robotic environments, objects, and robots, and others.

In addition, we will need to configure Python to work with the installed modules, as follows:

$ mkdir -p ~/Library/Python/2.7/lib/python/site-packages
$ echo "$(brew --prefix)/lib/python2.7/site-packages" >> ~/Library/Python/2.7/lib/python/site-packages/homebrew.pth

Then, we will install more modules using Python’s pip package installer. If you don’t have pip, install using these commands:

$ sudo -H python -m pip install -U pip  # Update pip

Then, install the following packages:

$ sudo -H python -m pip install -U wstool rosdep rosinstall rosinstall_generator rospkg catkin-pkg Distribute sphinx

If you get an error like Cannot remove entries from nonexistent file /Users/anaconda3/lib/python3.4/site-packages/easy-install.pth then you are facing a well-known problem in pip, so add a --ignore-installed option to work around the error:

$ sudo -H python -m pip install -U wstool rosdep rosinstall rosinstall_generator rospkg catkin-pkg Distribute sphinx --ignore-installed

Then, we initialize rosdep

$ sudo -H rosdep init
$ rosdep update

Step 2: Installation

We will first create a catkin workspace for our core ROS packages.

$ mkdir ~/ros_catkin_ws
$ cd ~/ros_catkin_ws

Then we will use the wstool module that we installed earlier to install the ‘desktop’ variant of the core packages to install.

$ rosinstall_generator desktop --rosdistro kinetic --deps --wet-only --tar > kinetic-desktop-wet.rosinstall
$ wstool init -j8 src kinetic-desktop-wet.rosinstall

If your installation fails or is interupted, enter

$ wstool update -j 4 -t src

Then we will recursively install all the dependencies for the catkin workspace:

$ rosdep install --from-paths src --ignore-src --rosdistro kinetic -y

The --from-paths option indicates that we want to install packages from src. The --ignore-src option indicates that we don’t want to install any packages not found in src. The --rosdistro option is to indicate the type of distro we are planning to set up, in this case kinetic. If you have any errors, type:

rosdep install -ay --os=ubuntu:osx

And if your console returns

#All required rosdeps installed successfully

You should be fine.

Next, we will build the catkin workspace. This might take a while due to troubleshooting many bugs in installation, so bear with me. Type in

$ ./src/catkin/bin/catkin_make_isolated --install -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release

If you get an error

CMake Error at cmake/empy.cmake:29 (message):
  Unable to find either executable 'empy' or Python module 'em'...  try
  installing the package 'python-empy'

Then we need to install the empy python package.

$ pip install empy

Then, try the installation again:

$ ./src/catkin/bin/catkin_make_isolated --install -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Release

If you get another error like

CMake Error at CMakeLists.txt:11 (find_package):
  By not providing "Findconsole_bridge.cmake" in CMAKE_MODULE_PATH this
  project has asked CMake to find a package configuration file provided by
  "console_bridge", but CMake did not find one.

  Could not find a package configuration file provided by "console_bridge"
  with any of the following names:


  Add the installation prefix of "console_bridge" to CMAKE_PREFIX_PATH or set
  "console_bridge_DIR" to a directory containing one of the above files.  If
  "console_bridge" provides a separate development package or SDK, be sure it
  has been installed.

We need to install console_bridge. Move back to the ros_catkin_ws directory, and enter

$ git clone git://
$ cd console_bridge
$ cmake .
$ make
$ sudo make install

Then try the installation again.

If you get the error

Poco was not found.  Set the Poco_INCLUDE_DIR cmake cache entry to the
  top-level directory containing the poco include directories.  E.g
  /usr/local/include/ or c:\poco\include\poco-1.3.2

Then install poco using

brew install poco

If you get an error

Could NOT find Eigen (missing: EIGEN_INCLUDE_DIR)

Then open up

$ vim ~/ros_catkin_ws/src/cmake_modules/CMakeLists.txt

And type in


If you get an error

include_directories given empty-string as include directory.