Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New: Microsoft Robotics Studio

Today, Microsoft announced its new "Robotics Studio". Here's a quote from their new website:
Microsoft has created a new software development kit for the robotics community with the goal of supplying a software platform that can be used across a wide variety of hardware, applicable to a wide audience of users, and development of a wide variety of applications.
While our development environment runs on Windows XP (and will also support Windows Vista), it can be used to support not only robots that support Windows, but also robots that can operate as clients to a PC running Windows.
The programming interface can be used to address robots using 8-bit or 16-bit processors as well as 32-bit systems with multi-core processors and devices from simple touch sensors to laser distance finding devices.
One of the more interesting things Microsoft might add, is the following:
A set of useful tools that make programming and debugging robot applications scenarios easier. These include a high quality visual simulation environment that uses for software physics supplied by the Ageia Technologies PhysX engine.
Modular robotics platforms like the LEGO MINDSTORMS and fischertechnik have made robotics affordable to a wide consumer audience. These platforms are an excellent starting point for the educational market and hobbyists but if you want to scale in terms of complexity of the robot or the number of individual robots, cost will prohibit most people from going further.
In that context, it is interesting to see that the new general manager for the Microsoft Robotics Group has previously been responsible for bringing Microsoft's Flight Simulator to the market. Still, there is a long road ahead before robots can be tested in realisticly simulated environments. Here's how the Microsoft Robotics Studio currently shows the robots:

Even so, Microsoft believes the time for robotics is now:
We think robotics is poised to take off rapidly, and there are solid indications that this is true! With component hardware costs coming down and computational capabilities increasing, the robotics industry appears to have the right conditions to really grow quickly.
Clearly, it's too early to tell just how important this announcement is. But my gut feeling is that this is really important. Microsoft is known to get into a market, and to keep improving until they get it right. Microsoft may dominate the PC market, but they also drove the growth of the PC market.

According to CNET.com, "Microsoft also has several academic and commercial partners that plan to support its software. Those include CMU, Lego, CoroWare, KUKA Robot Group, Robosoft and MobileRobots." (emphasis added by myself).

In the future, I will surely investigate how this impacts the NXT, and how you can connect the Microsoft Robotics Studio to the NXT. But like most of you, I'm waiting for the NXT to be delivered in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, you can actually download the Microsoft Robotics Studio Customer Technology Preview 1 for yourself.


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