Microsoft's New Tools for Robot Builders
Microsoft took the wraps off its new Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008 today at the RoboDevelopment Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, California.
Hobbyists dabbling in robotics will be happy to know that they can download the Express Edition of the developer tools for free, although they’re prohibited from redistributing the runtime code that a commercial robotic product would require. Professional developers, educators, and students who purchase either the Standard Edition or Academic Edition ($499.95 each), on the other hand, are free to distributed unlimited copies of the runtimes (previous versions of these packages limited distribution to 200 copies).
Not interested in being a code monkey? The development kit’s Visual Programming Language is a simple drag-and-drop tool that enables you to create and debug robotics programs using blocks that represent various services. The latest version provides a simple method for defining and configuring distributed applications (i.e., programs that can run across networked devices).
Improvements to the Robotics Developer Studio 2008’s Visual Simulation Environment (VSE), meanwhile, now provide the ability to record and play back simulations before a real robot executes the program. The VSE tool also includes a new floor-plan editor that simplifies the process of creating simulation environments, including indoor, outdoor, and urban locales.
Microsoft claims the latest version of their development package features runtime performance that is 1.5 to three times faster in message throughput between services, and that services now load twice as fast.
Robotics Developer Studio 2008 can be downloaded here. Once you’ve mastered the program, you might want to enter the RoboChamps Urban Challenge, cosponsored by Microsoft and KIA Motors. In this competition, which is similar to the real-world DARPA Urban Challenge, contestants must program a robotic car to navigate a series of checkpoints in an urban environment. The first-prize winner will take home a KIA Soul (valued at $15,000); second- and third-place finishers will earn $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.