28 June 2007
Microsoft robotics operating system
By Jim Pinto
Microsoft software is now getting into robots. Microsoft just unveiled Microsoft Robotics Studio, a software development tool that has as much growth potential as DOS in the early PC market.
The robotics market seems to mirror the PC days of the late 1970s. Everyone was developing with proprietary software on different microprocessor platforms. Then there was the IBM PC using Microsoft’s DOS (which could just as easily have been Digital Research’s C/PM). The rest is computer industry legend.
With robotics today, the hardware is fragmented, with little standardization. Building a robot is as much a programming exercise as a nuts-and-bolts hardware project. The problem is every new robot, even those built by industrial robot manufacturers, requires its own specialized software and programming tools. If there were a single, widely-used tool for robot programming, manufacturers could reuse code on different robots, and robot builders could concentrate on advanced features rather than re-inventing infrastructure.
There are lots of companies that want to develop products, but just do not have the tools. Microsoft is hoping that they will use their Robotics Studio. The system aims to create common technological underpinnings for what is now a relatively fragmented industry. It is intended for use with a wide range of robots, from those in factories to the growing number of robots available to consumers. The software works on Windows-based computers, but the resulting programs can work in robots running a number of different operating systems.
Microsoft’s Robotics Studio runs on Windows XP and includes several components: a programming environment for writing and debugging software that’s similar to Visual Studio, the main tool for writing Windows software; a “runtime” environment that functions as a mini-operating system for robots, executing code people write using the programming tool; and a simulator that allows users to build virtual models of robots and test how their software behaves without having to build actual hardware.
If you are into robots, you need to play with Microsoft’s Robotics Studio. The system is free for academic and non-commercial use. For commercial use, Microsoft will license the system for $399 per software developer. Each developer license allows a company to distribute programs created in Microsoft Robotics Studio in up to 200 machines.
Microsoft Windows program for creating robot software:
Microsoft’s robotics software now ready for commercial use:
Robots of the Future:
Behind the byline
Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and founder of Action Instruments. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or view his writings at www.JimPinto.com. Read the Table of Contents of his new book, Pinto’s Points, at www.jimpinto.com/writings/points.html.
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