Microsoft Corp. this week released the commercial version of its Window-based robotics software development kit. Called Microsoft Robotics Studio (MSRS), it consists of a visual robot programming language, 3D physics-based simulation tools and a services-oriented runtime architecture. Together they offer a common software development platform for many kinds of robots–from simple hobby models up to complex industrial robots. "The development kit scales across the whole industry," says Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft's Robotics Group. "Regardless of where you are on the learning curve or what kind of hardware you have, you work with the same programming model." And that's a big step in the world of robotics, which has traditionally been fragmented in terms of hardware, operating systems, and programming.
Much of the attention surrounding MSRS has so far involved its potential to help speed the development of consumer robots. For instance, check out Bill Gates' article, "A Robot In Every Home," in the January issue of Scientific American. But MSRS has implications for industrial users too. For one thing, it's built around a service oriented architecture that inherently supports the kind of distributed processing power found in more and more industrial applications. For another, MSRS promises to make training and simulation easier. It contains Ageia Technologies' physics engine, so the 3D simulations consider not only motions but also the related loads, forces and accelerations.
Of the 30 robotics suppliers that have so far partnered with Microsoft on this robotics effort, several supply industrial robots or related systems. Kuka Robotics, for example, is initially working with MSRS as a education and training tool, reports Kevin Kozuszek, the company's director of marketing. The longer term potential is to transfer finished robotics software from MSRS to Kuka's PC-based controllers. Another early user well-known for its industrial work is Braintech Inc. The company today announced plans to release a suite of software services under the brand name, VOLTS-IQ. The suite will offer feature recognition, object localization and robot guidance in the form of Microsoft Robotics Studio (MSRS) services.