Over the last few years Microsoft has developed a Robotics platform that could target a number of robots starting with everything from hobbyist grade robots up to industrial robots. A common question with our platform has always been can my robotic solution run directly on the robot? In the case of hobbyist  / enthusiast grade robots using microcontrollers the answer has usually been no. Our platform requires a PC based operating system such as Windows 7. However we also offer a simulation environment so that if you cannot afford to purchase a robot you can actually test your entire robot in a simulated environment.

In the last few years we have run a competition where the contestants have had to write a program to control a robot car moving through a city or even a rover on the surface of Mars. While it is always fun to get your hands on real hardware the ability to design and code a robot under simulation is a powerful one. If your an educator for example with a class of 20+ kids are you going to go and buy 20+ robots or just one and have your kids primarily work within a simulated environment.

While we continue to develop our simulated environment the big news of course is that we have now launched a relatively low cost PC based Robot as well as Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta at Maker Faire in New York. Here are some photos from the event:

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This last weekend we (John O’Donnell and Philip Wheat) were invited to work at the Microsoft Robotics booth at Maker Faire New York. It was a unique opportunity as we would be able to see a new robot (EDDIE) that the Robotics team would be launching as a new robotics reference platform and it would be shown at the event for the first time. This robot will be available from http://www.parallax.com/eddie and is designed not so much as an end solution but a design that is intended to get people thinking about robotics in the home. In addition we are publishing the specifications for this reference platform so that other companies can produce and sell their own versions and also allow hobbyists to build it themselves.

A unique feature of EDDIE is that it integrates a Kinect as a powerful vision system for scenarios such as navigation / SLAM, obstacle detection / avoidance and people detection.

In the Microsoft pavilion we had 3 booths talking about Microsoft Robotics, Kinect and the .NET Gadgeteer. In addition we had an area with three EDDIE robots and also an area where they had a Kinect device where you could move your arms around to remotely control the EDDIE robot. This was attended by a constant stream of adults and kids wanting to drive the robot by waving their arms around.

One member of the robotics team was controlling an EDDIE robot using his Windows Phone 7 Samsung Focus. However perhaps the biggest hit of the event was the Microsoft PartyBot. This was a robot that had been hacked to add on a DSLR camera and notebook. The robot spent most of the time wandering the pavilion under its own autonomous control and when the Kinect camera picked up a good skeleton it would take a photo and upload to Flickr as well as display it on the notebook. I wish you all could have seen the excitement this generated. Adults and children alike were flocking around this robot the entire time trying to get their photo taken.

Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4 offers a number of components:


Visual Simulation Environment – you do not have to use real hardware to build your robotic application
VPL or Visual Programming Language – Build your robotic application using drag and drop blogs on a design surface.
DSS or Distributed Software Services – Spread your application across multiple nodes / servers
CCR or Concurrency and Coordination Runtime – helps make asynchronous input / output easier (critical in robotics apps)
.NET Framework 4, XNA® 4.0 and Visual Studio® 2010 support
Services for Kinect
Kinect hardware support through Kinect SDK
Kinect Entity in Simulation
Depth Image Viewer
Silverlight CCR Services
Concurrency support in Silverlight® 4.0
Floorplan editor & Supports .x, .obj & .dae file formats
CCR and DSS Runtime
Services for Reference Platform robots
Simulated Reference Platform

Read more about Microsoft Robotics at http://www.microsoft.com/robotics

Videos of event:

 

 Press Stories:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/anthropology-in-practice/2011/09/19/a-robot-in-every-home-were-getting-close/
http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/19/take-me-to-your-metro-microsoft-releases-robotics-developer-studio-4-beta/
http://www.i-programmer.info/news/169-robotics/3077-roboticshome-competition.html 

http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-software/microsoft-releases-robotics-developer-studio-4-beta-new-robot-platform
http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Kinect-Microsoft-Windows-Robotics-Robotics-Developer-Studio-4,13468.html

 Robotics At Home Competition:

The Microsoft Robotics team used this event to launch a new competition with a 10,000 dollar first prize. The intent is to get people thinking about Robotics in the home and come up with a compelling scenario. The top ten ideas will be sent a robot to build their project on and then the winner will get the big prize. - http://www.roboticsathome.com/

As you can see from the press releases Microsoft has grabbed people’s imaginations with an updated Robotics platform that gets us on a track to discovery as well as a hardware platform that will enable creative thinkers to consider what it would be like to live in a world where every home has at least one robot driving around performing useful tasks.

Further Reading:
Professional Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (Wrox Programmer to Programmer)
Robot Development Using Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio
Programming Microsoft® Robotics Studio [Paperback]

For more on the robotics industry check out The Robotics Report

 

Thanks for reading

John

John O'Donnell, ISV Architect Evangelist
Microsoft Corporation
http://blogs.msdn.com/jodonnell
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