Today at RoboBusiness Conference and Exposition 2006, Microsoft Corp. showcased the community technology preview (CTP) of a new Windows®-based environment for academic, hobbyist and commercial developers to easily create robotic applications for a wide variety of computing platforms. In addition, early adopter companies, universities and research institutes offered demos and provided support for the new Microsoft® Robotics Studio development platform. The community technology preview of the Microsoft Robotics Studio is available for download at http://msdn.microsoft.com/robotics.
Key features and benefits of the Microsoft Robotics Studio environment include these:
• End-to-end robotics development platform. Microsoft Robotics Studio includes a visual programming tool, making it easy to create and debug robot applications. Robotics Studio enables developers to generate modular services for hardware and software, allowing users to interact with robots through Web-based or Windows-based interfaces. Developers can also simulate robotic applications using realistic 3-D models; Microsoft has licensed the PhysX™ engine from AGEIA™, a pioneer in hardware-accelerated physics, enabling real-world physics simulations with robot models. The PhysX simulations can also be accelerated using AGEIA hardware.
• Lightweight services-oriented runtime. Microsoft Robotics Studio provides a lightweight services-oriented runtime. Using a .NET-based concurrency library, it makes asynchronous application development simple. The services-oriented, message-based architecture makes it simple to access the state of a robot’s sensors and actuators with a Web browser, and its composable model enables the building of high-level functions using simple components and providing for reusability of code modules as well as better reliability and replaceability.
• Scalable, extensible platform. The Microsoft Robotics Studio programming model can be applied for a variety of robot hardware platforms, enabling users to transfer their learning skills across platforms. Third parties can also extend the functionality of the platform by providing additional libraries and services. Both remote (PC-based) and autonomous (robot-based) execution scenarios can be developed using a selection of programming languages, including those in Microsoft Visual Studio® and Microsoft Visual Studio Express languages (Visual C#® and Visual Basic® .NET), JScript® and Microsoft IronPython 1.0 Beta 1, and third-party languages that conform to its services-based architecture.
Aside from providing fodder for innumerable creative headlines in the press, the Microsoft Robotics Studio is not really that big a novelty. Microsoft for years has been aggressively expanding the “ecosystem” based on their tools and operating systems into a variety of seemingly mundane applications such as lab equipment, retail point of sale, and ATMs. It’s just that robotics captures the imagine rather better than a cash register.