Microsoft targets robots

Software giant Microsoft is taking a first step away from office software towards more industrial applications with the preview of the Microsoft Robotics Studio.

Microsoft targets robots

Aimed at a range of robotic researchers in areas as diverse as academic, hobbyist and commercial development, the Robotics software is engineered differently from the average desktop operating system. In order to function and respond in the real world, it has to be able to receive and process concurrent information from its sensors in real time and feed it back instantly as a response through its motors – and that is without any autonomous decision making built in.

Microsoft says that its Robotics Studio is based around a .NET-based concurrency library, to simplify asynchronous application development. The message-based architecture allows the developer to access the state of a robot’s sensors and actuators with a Web browser.

It enables, according to Microsoft, the building of high-level functions using simple components and provides for reuse of code modules, which should improve reliability and replaceability.

Microsoft Robotics Studio in built around a visual programming model similar to the Visual Studio programming suite that, the company says, makes 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 either browsers or Windows-based interfaces.

Developers can also prototype robotic applications using realistic 3-D models. As part of the studio, 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.

The Microsoft Robotics Studio programming model can be used on a variety of robot hardware 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 by a range 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).

The technology preview version of the Microsoft Robotics Studio is available for download from the Microsoft site.

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