The fourth law of robotics: Monetize
If you've nursed a casual interest in robotics - maybe you love Asimov or you've been watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix - but lack funding or a hard robotics background, you might find Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 4 a good place to start. Just released for beta, the software allows programmers to develop their own applications to control robots using a Windows PC as the CPU and a Kinect sensor as eyes and ears, further demonstrating that of Kinect's large number of useful applications, 'playing video games' is lowest among them.
As with most Microsoft endeavors, the company is only providing software, and they've released a reference platform design spec for third parties wishing to develop robots for the platform. You're not going to be able to make your own doomsday device, but you might be able to make something useful for around the house. Parallax, Inc has already manufactured a hardware kit based on that document, for a cute robot/chair named Eddie, currently available for preorder.
Robotics Developer Studio 4 also comes with a simulation tool to allow people to develop applications and test them without needing physical hardware, and an easy VPL, both of which should come in quite handy for developers lacking capital or experience. As they did with the release of Kinect for Windows SDK, this continues a recent attempt by Microsoft to connect* with enthusiasts, small developers and academics (while benevolently encouraging them to use Windows rather than Linux). There's probably a master plan in place to fully profit off RDS4 Robots, but free for now is nice, unless you're stuck using Vista. Robotics Developer Studio 4 beta also adds support for Microsoft .NET Framework 4, XNA Game Studio 4.0, and Visual Studio 2010, and is available on Microsoft's site.
*pun not intended.