December 12, 2006 9:00 PM PST
Microsoft unveils public robotics software
The technology, called Microsoft Robotics Studio, is a Windows-based software platform designed to make it relatively simple to program robots--real or simulated. Compatible with several different pieces of hardware, like iRobot's Roomba or the Lego Mindstorms NXT "tribot," the software lets enterprising gadget hounds command a device to communicate, send alerts or perform scheduled tasks.
The software is free for hobbyists or researchers, but companies aiming to profit from its use must license a commercial version for $399.
Microsoft entered the robotics fray in June, when it introduced a downloadable preview of the software and a new research group devoted to the field. At the time, it also funded a research lab at Carnegie Mellon University called the Center for Innovative Robotics. Since June, the software has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, with interest from academics, hobbyists and industry, Microsoft said.
"We're giving the industry a means to bootstrap itself," said Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft Robotics Group.
On Wednesday, Microsoft also unveiled a third-party partner program encouraging software and device makers to support its technology. The Redmond, Wash.-based company already has 30 companies supporting its software, including iRobot, Fischertechnik, Parallax and RoboDynamics.
Experts in the field say Microsoft will bring robotics to more people and give hobbyists a chance to become entrepreneurs.
Helen Greiner, for example, co-founder and chairwoman of iRobot, said that Microsoft will help the company extend its open interface for the Roomba to a wider audience of developers. "A common development platform like Microsoft Robotics Studio will help ignite the robotics industry and encourage more developers to design new robot applications," Greiner said in a statement.
The software platform includes a 3D tool to simulate robotics applications; a services-oriented run time that lets applications communicate with a wide variety of hardware; and a visual programming language that lets nonprogrammers easily program robots with drag-and-drop icons.
In addition, Microsoft said it will sponsor RoboCup 2007, an international robotics competition scheduled for July at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.