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Eclipse in Space: Talking RCP and Robotics with Tamar Cohen

Diana Kupfer

Diana Kupfer talks to Tamar Cohen, who works with NASA Ames’ Intelligent Robotics group.

From the latest issue of Eclipse Magazin, Diana Kupfer discusses the use of Eclipse within NASA Ames’ Intelligent Robotics group, with Tamar Cohen.

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What makes the Eclipse RCP suitable for experiments on the ISS?

We primarily chose Eclipse RCP for our ISS experiment infrastructure because we have been using it here for many years for other projects, and we have a large infrastructure already developed based on Eclipse. Some of the Eclipse RCP features that are very important to us include:

– The ability to run on multiple operating systems

– OSGi bundle (plugin) based architecture lets us build various applications that share plugins

– Relative ease of development — many infrastructure things are already in place, with SWT and JFace, EMF among others

– The ability to customize the applications we build to our needs.

What do you appreciate about the Eclipse RCP?

I personally have been developing Eclipse RCP applications for at least seven years, and really appreciate the system.  For me, much of the benefit is in the community; knowing the brilliant software engineers who have been developing and contributing to mainstream Eclipse projects and receiving prompt feedback on newsgroups as I have questions is extremely valuable.

Of course the general Eclipse software development and debugging tools (for Java but for other languages too) are fantastic and I use them always; specifically refactoring support, hot keys and short cuts, and while debugging I especially like conditional breakpoints.

Can you briefly describe the projects/experiments in which Eclipse technologies are used?

I wish I could! NASA is a very large organization and Eclipse is used in many experiments, projects and products.  I can say that within our group, the Intelligent Robotics Group, we use Eclipse extensively for situational awareness of remote rovers and robots.

We have a 3D virtual environment built on top of Ardor3D that we render within Eclipse, and we show telemetry from rovers in that view as well as in standard SWT views. We sometimes use Eclipse for commanding our rovers. Some members of my group are supporting science operations of Curiosity by using Eclipse to display the position & shadows at any given time.  Per my upcoming talk, we are using Eclipse to create workbenches that crew on the ISS will use during two experiments, one to control SPHERES and the other to control our K10 Rover here at NASA Ames.

What Eclipse technologies are used in particular?

We use the Eclipse Modeling Framework; leveraging that has saved us a lot of effort. We have also built a system on the Eclipse Databinding Framework to make generation of databound SWT widgets. We use Mylyn WikiText to generate documentation. We have used Buckminster for our build systems. We use SWT and JFace for UI. The IRG is committed to open-source software.

Yet some say that open-source software tends to be inferior to proprietary applications in terms of quality. What’s been your experience?

We both utilize and create open source software projects at IRG. We have found that when we use open source software we are able to do our own diagnostics and debugging of issues that we find.  Additionally we tend to have very good experiences with responsiveness of support people, either through newsgroups or through direct conversation with the authors of the open source software.  Conversely, we have found that when we license commercial software for use, often the responsiveness of those companies is not as good as open source software, and since we don’t have the source code for licensed software we can hit roadblocks that we cannot solve.

From your POV, what’s the future of Eclipse-based applications in space?

Well, as a software developer with a strong belief that Eclipse is an excellent platform for developing RCP applications, it would be excellent if it were used for some real missions!

This interview appeared in the recent issue of Eclipse Magazin. Image courtesy of shehal.

Diana Kupfer
Working at S&S Media since 2011, Diana Kupfer is an editor at Eclipse Magazine, Java Magazin and
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