Microsoft Moves into Robotics

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 06-20-2006
PITTSBURGH—Microsoft has robot dreams.

The company on June 20 released a community technical preview or beta of its Microsoft Robotics Studio.

The company's robotics software development suite, previewed here at the Robo Business 2006 Conference, is designed to grant robot designers a framework for creating the code that serves as the brains behind the various sensors and servos that operate their bots. But it also shows the Redmond, Wash., company's interest in the space.

The new suite, due by the end of the year, is designed to apply to a wide range of robots, allowing users to program the most basic bots on up to more complex machines for industry, military or even private use.

But it also signals commitment by Microsoft to robotics, a field that many industry insiders—company chairman Bill Gates, who signed off on the suite's development, among them—now believe is on the verge of an upswing.

"A lot of people have said this market is a lot like the early PC business was in the 1970s. It still has not really reached its potential," said Tandy Trower, general manager of the robotics project at Microsoft.

Then, "people were asking, 'Why would I want a PC?' You hear that same question in the robotics space right now."

Where home computers have gone from novelties to near ubiquity in many areas of the world, Trower and others believe robots can do the same.

These days "You don't have that question [about PCs' value] too often any more in the computer space," he said. "The PC has pretty much justified itself as an integral part of people's daily interactions."

The robotics space, Trower believes, has a similar upside potential in the next five to 10 years.

Click here to read more about how robots are helping to save lives on the front lines.

Many companies, seeing that upside, are moving to get in on the ground floor of the industry.

Microsoft, for its part, is delivering its software tools, it says, with the aim of helping to speed the market along.

"What we're doing is trying to put in place, through this robotics studio, a set of development tools that will make it possible for people to build applications to help further this potential along," Trower said.

Thus establishing a common framework for designers to use and carry with them from project-to-project or possibly from universities to corporations, Trower said.

The Robotics Studio will focus on delivering a scalable programming model that can tackle concurrency or the management of information from multiple inputs simultaneously, as well as providing software development and testing tools and sample applications.

Read the full story on eWEEK.com: Microsoft Sees Life Stirring in Robots