Thursday, June 22, 2006

Microsoft into Robotics..

Microsoft pulled the curtain back on its Microsoft Robotics Studio at the RoboBusiness and Exposition 2006 in the eastern state of Pennsylvania.

"What was brought to the table today was an application development kit that is designed to make it easier for anyone and everyone to write applications for a robot," Tandy Trower, manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group, told AFP.

"It can address both high-end robots and very simple robots. It is about Microsoft building a bootstrap, or a platform, to allow the industry to integrate the pieces they are developing."

Anyone wanting to test-drive the software can download it without charge at

The robotics industry is poised for revolutionary growth on par with that undergone by the personal computer industry since the 1970s, Trower said.

"You can feel the energy and the anticipation," Trower said. "This industry is really on the brink of breaking open. There are tremendous minds out there just waiting for the right tools."

Industry analysts expected robotics will grow into a multi-billion-dollar industry during the next decade.

"In regard to robot applications, we are just at the threshold of what can be done," Trower said. "We are just limited by our imagination."

Robots can make hospital rounds for doctors, who can navigate the machines from their computers and interact with patients via camera and audio equipment.

There are robots for tasks as mundane as vacuuming floors and as perilous as exploring enemy terrain in Iraq.

"These robots already exist," Trower said. "Perhaps in the future, you might have a home companion robot that keeps an eye on you or watches your house while you're away."

The aging global population has created a growing market for robots that can help the elderly live independently, according to Trower.

"A robot could call for help if we fall down, remind us to take our medicine, or allow family to look in on us to make sure we are OK," Trower said.

Microsoft's robotics suite was geared for students and hobbyists as well as sophisticated engineers, according to the company.

Among the features touted was a tool that lets people craft applications for virtual robots as well as create simulated machines with designs that don't yet exist in the real world.

"Imagine a video game where instead of funny little creatures, you had virtual robots and could drive those robots in a virtual environment," Trower said.

"If the application you write causes your robot to keep running into the wall, better to find out in a simulation than with your robot."

Microsoft's application was put to work in a yet-to-be released Lego Mindstorms children's robot building set and in a six-wheel French Robosoft robot built for military and civil safety uses, according to the makers.

"Microsoft, together with the upcoming Lego Mindstorms NXT, will help further amplify the impact of robotics," said Soren Lund, director of Lego's Mindstorms unit.

The new generation Mindstorms robot-building kit was to be shipped later this year, according to the Danish manufacture of children's play materials.

"We have been working for many years to design a multi-use, reliable robotics core for the whole range of our professional service robots," Robosoft President Vincent Dupourque said in a statement released by the French firm.

"The Microsoft Robotics Studio fits our vision of modular robotics, offering the programming ease and efficiency needed by our developers, integrators and final customers."

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