Microsoft Previews Windows for Robots

Microsoft released a preview of a new Windows-based platform Tuesday that would allow for the easy development of robotics applications in academic, hobbyist and commercial environments. Called the Microsoft Robotics Studio, the technology was showcased at a robotics conference in Pittsburgh.

The company says that it sees great potential in robotics, thus it began work to provide an easier method of creating new robotic applications. The Robotics Studio is a result of that work. With improvements in processors and lower-cost sensors, development in robotics is expected to soar.

One of Microsoft's first partners in the field is Lego, whose Mindstorms NXT products will be able to take advantage of the new platform. With Robotics Studio, Lego robots would be able to perform more advanced functions.

Microsoft says it is thrilled by the initial response to its work. "We've reached out to a broad range of leading robotics companies and academics early on in the development process and are thrilled with the positive response from the community," Microsoft Robotics general manager Tandy Trower said.

Key features of the platform include an end-to-end development platform, including features that would allow for simulations of robotic applications through the licensing of the PhysX engine from Ageia.

Additionally, developers can access the sensors of a robot via a Web browser, and the lightweight nature of the platform would allow for easy development. Built to be scalable and extensible, the Microsoft Robotics platform would be able to be customized to the user's liking, Microsoft said.

JupiterResearch senior analyst and Microsoft pundit Joe Wilcox says that Microsoft needs to be thinking bigger, and criticized the Windows-centric basis for the platform.

"Microsoft has been here before with its automatons of the 1990s, the mechanical Barney and Arthur. Robotics Studio, ah, extends what Microsoft already created in the past," Wilcox argued. "Whether robotic toys or tools, there is opportunity in making operating systems and development tools. It's just too bad that, like other Microsoft stuff, to get there you've got to go the Windows way or the highway."

A Community Technology Preview of the Microsoft Robotics software along with further documentation is available from the MSDN Web site.

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