In my July blog post, we announced the Kinect Services for Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (RDS) and I promised that we would have some exciting announcements this fall. It is my pleasure to announce the release of RDS 4 Beta available as a free of charge download at Microsoft.com/robotics.

It's inspiring to see the tremendous excitement with Microsoft Kinect within the robotics space signaling the energy and potential opportunities that exist in essentially transforming robots to low-cost mainstream consumer devices. This beta release is one of our early steps towards realizing our long term strategy of accelerating the consumer robotics industry. There are many new capabilities that we are bringing to the latest release of RDS, but I will focus on three major additions I’m particularly excited about.

Unlike computers that primarily implement a single computational model, which means that when I write a sorting algorithm that runs on one computer, the same algorithm will work on another computer even if it uses a different processor technology, has different component configuration, and runs a different software stack. This is not the case with robots that come in many shapes and configurations. For example a navigation algorithm is typically dependent on the sensor and other hardware configurations. This makes it difficult for people to share solutions.  

For the first time we define a Kinect-based hardware reference platform that can help in the delivery of an affordable and capable robot that will be able to support technologies and scenarios for the consumer audience. Most everyone can build a robot using this specification, and we are working with robotic hardware vendors that will make kits and preassembled units available. The first such kit is called EDDIE and it is available from Parallax for pre-order now. EDDIE is intended to be a turnkey solution for using RDS with this platform and our aspiration is that there will be development and sharing of technology for this hardware platform. In addition, we made sure that there is an accurate representation of a robot that is based on the hardware platform in our simulation environment. You can start developing your applications in the simulator before you decide to buy and run them on a physical robot.

The second additional feature in RDS 4 is beta the availability of Kinect services that support the Kinect for Windows SDK capabilities shipped by Microsoft earlier this summer. You will be able to use the CCR/DSS programming model to access all of the Kinect for Windows SDK functionality. This unlocks a whole new world around Human Robot Interaction (HRI) with the use of skeleton tracking and speech. But we are also making available the raw sensor stream for your use in building additional capabilities such as navigation algorithms. As a matter of fact, we are shipping an obstacle avoidance service that fuses the Kinect input with the other proximity sensors to demonstrate how the sensor array can be used to intelligently perform directional based navigation.

In RDS 4 we make available for the first time the CCR programming model in Silverlight. Why is this important? Although this new capability might seem esoteric, it is manifesting a baby step towards engaging a broader community of developers who might not have previously been involved with Robotic scenarios. We feel that this is very important because we see that many of the experience and scenario innovations used today in the mobile device space can translate to new unique and exciting applications for Robotics.

In an effort to help spur continued creativity and new consumer robotics scenario within the community, we are also excited to announce our first Robots @ Home Contest. We are inviting developers of all stripes to innovate and create new software that can lead to more personal consumer robotics scenarios. You can submit idea proposals into one of the following categories:

  1. Consumer usage scenarios;
  2. Human Robot Interaction; and
  3. Autonomous Navigation.

Please visit our Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio Web site for more details.

It’s been exciting to see how Microsoft’s Kinect sensor has already captured the imaginations of researchers, academics, and robotics enthusiasts around the world. Our motivation in releasing these tools is to extend and democratize access to robotics development, bringing value to the space through ease-of-use, accessibility, and a robust existing developer community.

As you can imagine, these are hard problems that we are trying to solve. And given the constraints and expectations of the market within the consumer robotics space, we believe that if we combine both Microsoft’s unique technology portfolio with the creativity and enthusiasm of the community, we can develop new experiences and scenarios that can revolutionize peoples’ relationship with Robotics.

--Stathis Papaefstathiou, General Manager, Microsoft Robotics