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Microsoft Developing Robotics Software 282

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the robot-in-every-home dept.
s31523 writes to tell us Microsoft recently announced the launch of their new Microsoft Robotics Group and the first product release, a software program to help robotics developers. Despite the timing this has nothing to do with the recent abdication by Gates, and was actually instigated by Gates before his departure. From the article "It might take many years, but Microsoft believes robotics could present a big opportunity as the market grows, said Tandy Trower, general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group. He cited estimates predicting that consumer robotics alone will grow into a multibillion-dollar industry in five to 10 years."
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Microsoft Developing Robotics Software

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  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Iguru42 (530641) * on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:43PM (#15572104)
    Microsoft is writing software for robots? Thank god, this can only mean that SkyNet has finally been destroyed.
  • by denis-The-menace (471988) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:44PM (#15572108)
    Since Sony killed their robotics division.
    • by rajafarian (49150) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @07:10PM (#15572988)
      Microsoft will go through the motions, make announcements, hire some people, make more announcements, show a demo, make more announcements... but when it comes time to compete, they will do the only thing they know how to do:

      Buy off a company who actually has something to show for their efforts!"
  • 1st BSOD? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MMHere (145618) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:44PM (#15572115)
    What happens with the first BSOD. Will the robot fail to avoid Asimov's First Law if in motion at the time?
  • by JackBuckley (696547) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:44PM (#15572117) Homepage
    "Despite the timing this has nothing to do with the recent abdication by Gates"

    Yeah, sure. We all know the robots forced Gates out the door as soon as they became self-aware at 2:14 AM, Eastern time. Ray Ozzie is an android. What else explains the Lotus Notes (or "Notus") interface?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:45PM (#15572120)
    Looks like that "Bill Gates as Borg" icon /. has for Microsoft stories is going to remain relevant after all!
  • by WatchTheTramCarPleas (970756) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:45PM (#15572125) Homepage
    Windows Vista Robot edition?
  • Crazy tangent? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:45PM (#15572127) Journal
    And no, despite the timing, it's not a case of the company's engineers taking Microsoft on a crazy tangent now that Bill Gates is shifting away from his day-to-day oversight.

    What "crazy tangent"? Every robotic system I've ever worked with was controlled by software running on Windows (or DOS).

    • Re:Crazy tangent? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ScottLindner (954299) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:47PM (#15572146)
      Not me. Most I know of are controlled using prepriety systems. Such as PLCs.
    • Are you serious? I'm prepared to accept that there are plenty of programming systems for automation that are Windows-based, but actual robots?

      Alternatively, if there really is this multithreaded, pre-emptive scheduling, determinate time execution, tightly coupled networking, highly reliable, checked Windows kernel and services management system out there, why have they been hiding it all these years?

      • Windows CE supports real-time.

        Lots of places use Windows robots. Just google "robot microsoft windows" ... epson's [epson.co.jp] robotics uses Windows exclusively as far as I can tell. Hobbyists have been doing it for a long time. Microsoft has a SDK for programming LEGO's using .net ... all sorts of people have been using windows with robotics, on varying levels.
        • M$ saying they have an OS that supports real time, and actually having a *real* real time OS are very different things. One is marketting hype, the other is the no BS product that delivers. If M$ were to have actually made CE a *real* real time OS, it would be a completely different design than NT 4 or NT 5. Neither of those kernels are really real time OSs.

          Check VxWorks. One of the few true real time OSs there are. I think Linux is trying to play the game, but isn't really real time yet. Yah.. I know
      • by Otter (3800)
        I'm prepared to accept that there are plenty of programming systems for automation that are Windows-based, but actual robots?

        Most "robots" *are* just automated devices, not Commander Data-like sentient androids. Take this Quadra 3 SPE [tomtec.com], for example. (Note: Windows-based!)

        That's why I always laugh when people here spout off about Asimov's Laws in connection with industrial robotics. It's like complaining that your toaster oven should know not to burn you.

        • Most "robots" *are* just automated devices, not Commander Data-like sentient androids.

          Links to the ones that aren't please?
          • by TERdON (862570)
            bomb robots, underwater robots, probably more similar examples from where they come from. From the point of view of robotics, they aren't really robots at all (definition of "robot" in robotics: it has to be autonomous, even if that means only by following a prepared program).

            Basically, they aren't even automated devices, they are really only cool remote controlled toys. :)

            However, the question still holds if we're just phrasing it appropiately: Links to robots that are MORE sophisticated than mere automati
        • That's why I always laugh when people here spout off about Asimov's Laws in connection with industrial robotics. It's like complaining that your toaster oven should know not to burn you.

          Ignorning for a second that a toaster is not a robot - is that really so unreasonable?

    • by msauve (701917) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:00PM (#15572247)
      The very successful Mars Rovers [nasa.gov], which have no one around to give them a "three finger salute," are based on Wind River's VxWorks [windriver.com] RTOS.
    • Re:Crazy tangent? (Score:5, Informative)

      by feijai (898706) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:25PM (#15572427)
      Every robotic system I've ever worked with was controlled by software running on Windows (or DOS).

      I'm a roboticist and I have to take issue with this sample bias. Robot controllers in industry are by and large run on custom operating systems such as VXWorks, WindRiver, etc. Robot packages in academia, particularly of the mobile robot ilk, usally run on many operating systems but tend to be weighted toward UNIX platforms (ARIA, Player/Stage, etc.). Many new small robot controllers (RoboStix, for example) are heavily targeted to UNIX.

      • Re:Crazy tangent? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Otter (3800)
        I'm a roboticist and I have to take issue with this sample bias.

        Sure, I'm not making assertions about market share at all. (I don't have the slightest idea, and you and some others replying clearly do.) I'm just saying that the use of Windows in robotics is hardly as unprecedented as the link makes it sound.

      • Re:Crazy tangent? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScottLindner (954299)
        VxWorks is only used in complete system designs. Things that NASA would do are certainly true for this case.

        But other robots use controllers like PLCs, CNC, and another hybrid that I can't quite remember at the moment. These are much simpler and are not what I'd call an "engineered" solution but a very simplistic one. It does depend on what the robot is. Which is a very fuzzy distinction without any clarification. Which I guess is the basis of my point.

        Vx didn't work for a long time... (a joke with som
  • He's not gone yet... (Score:3, Informative)

    by SkiddyRowe (692144) <bigskidrowe@hotmail.com> on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:46PM (#15572129)
    Last I checked, Gates won't be gone for another 2 years. It's a little pre-mature to say 'before his departure'...
    • by tktk (540564) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:15PM (#15572364)
      Last I checked, Gates won't be gone for another 2 years. It's a little pre-mature to say 'before his departure'...


      But knowing Microsoft, it will be 3-4 years before Gates is out the door. And sadly, probably missing some 'features'.

    • This reminds me of the time when my cousin and his girlfriend announced that they were going to get married in 3 years. And I was like, Why are you telling us this now? If you want to get married go get married now. If you think it might be years before the time is right, then keep it to yourselves and wait and see how it goes and let us know later on.
  • BSOD (Score:2, Funny)

    by cain (14472)
    Awesome. This'll give new meaning to BSOD when the robots begin the inevitable rampage. Blue Scream of Death anyone?

  • by Phat_Tony (661117) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:47PM (#15572144)
    Great, now when MS makes programming mistakes, one of these [anu.edu.au] will knock someone's head off.
  • Gives whole new meaning to "Blue Screen of Death"
  • Yes, exactly what everybody was hoping for, a robot that crashes in the middle of moving around heavy machinery over our heads and spits out blue... eyes?
  • Link to the CTP (Score:4, Informative)

    by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:51PM (#15572184) Journal
    get it here [microsoft.com]
  • Robotic Overlor-oh, never mind, it crashed...
  • by LehiNephi (695428) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @04:55PM (#15572213) Journal
    Microsoft has been experiencing for several years what Google is only now realizing: They're good at a few things, and that's it. Microsoft, feeling the pinch of having essentially only two major products (Windows and Office), wanted to diversify. While they have a near-monopoly on operating systems and office suites, that's the only market in which they have a large, profitable stake. So they try to branch out. Sometimes, they're more successful, like with their mouses. Sometimes, they're not, if you look at the financials of the Xbox. The problem they face, however, is that the markets they want to branch into are already well established. Crowded, even. So MS throws piles of money at it, hoping that it will work. At the same time, Apple and Linux are starting to make inroads in the desktop and server markets. MS sees their mainstay threatened.

    Google is similar. They came up with a great product, their search engine. It was so good that it rapidly took a majority of the market, despite default IE settings. But then they stalled. GMail is good, but has nowhere near the market penetration as their search. Maps, groups, IM, blogs, calendar, spreadsheets...the list goes on. Google has some good products, but they're trying to expand into an already saturated market. And now their flagship product is faltering. Linkfarms, SEOs illegitimately boosting their rankings, and spammers are degrading the quality of Google's results.

    Now, we're not talking about a mature industry with human-interactive robots. However, this smells strongly of "We need to find a new way to make money if Windows/Office starts slipping"
    • by molarmass192 (608071) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:44PM (#15572532) Homepage Journal
      Microsoft will eventually lose their OS and Office monopolies. They'll fight it tooth and nail, but it's inevitable. I'm not 100% sure what will eventually topple them, but Linux and OpenOffice are my bets. There's just too much momentum behind both. 5 years ago, Linux on a tech resume was rare. These days, I'd say 80% of tech resumes I see have that skill. Also, OO 2.0 is a quantum leap from OO 1.x in terms of reliability and speed. Mix in a strong anti-MS sentiment outside of the US, and increasing 3rd party app support, and you've got all the elements of a downfall in the making.
    • Who voted this "insightful?" Too many silly statements to summarize so I'll just pick on one of the most obvious.

      Nephi said "While they have a near-monopoly on operating systems and office suites, that's the only market in which they have a large, profitable stake."

      So...what about SQL Server or Exchange Server? SQL Server alone would be one of the biggest software companies in the world and Exchange isn't super far behind. Both are highly profitable.

      I also can't resist tweaking the equally silly suggestion
    • Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft is a publishing company FIRST, software company second. They are just forseeing the enevitable future which will require robots to perform some of our daily tasks. Why not carry a product to meet a growing niche? It costs them nothing in , since they basically just bought a company that already did it for very little, because they were probably poor and starving and sold out for like $10M. Now, they can put their marketing people on it to make it look all clean and
  • Yippie! Now my robots will be able to be taken over by spyware and used to launch a DoS attack on the CIA, just like my Windows box.
    • Except your spyware robot will actively root through your wallet while you aren't looking, then take naked pictures of you while you sleep and post em on cheap pr0nsites.

      Also, when it comes time for DoS attacks, guns will be invovled.

      However, if your robot acts up, just be sure to re-install Windows... ...right into it's neural processor... ...with a hammer.
      (Warning, this might cause data loss.)

      I cannot wait for the glorius new robotic revolution. Just wait for the first botnets, soon we will hav "Robot Zom
  • Please, for the sake of all that is good, for the sake of mankind, please keep M$ away from robotics. Otherwise when the robots do take over, The Matrix will keep being plagued by viruses and spamware and will be down all the time doing windows updates. Imagine your whole world blinking out in one giant BSOD. I wander how many Matrix-trapped humans will suffer instant heart attacks. That would have to be scary, very scary!
  • that m$ avatar never seemed so appropriate...
  • by mugnyte (203225) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:05PM (#15572292) Journal

      Microsoft today released a beta version for their solution to their ever-shrinking developer workforce: The Developer Upgrade and Creation Kit. Thinly disguised as a "robot modeler" sandbox application, the Developer Upgrade and Creation Kit (DUCK).

  • Will the default function for the robot software be 'Kill All Humans'?

    Or maybe the robots will actually learn how to feel things: 'Why, why, why did they teach me to feel pain?'
  • I'm looking forward to... ...robots that freeze, mid-stride, for no apparent reason, and need a (re)boot to the head to get moving again; ...robots that get infected by viruses and wander through your house, "deleting" your pets; ...the "Blue Stumble Of Death"
  • by dskoll (99328) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:11PM (#15572342)
    A well-placed source said that Microsoft's first robotic product would compete with the famous Roomba room-vacuuming robot. The source added that Microsoft's vacuum cleaner would be the first Microsoft product that didn't suck.
  • OMG (Score:3, Insightful)

    by infosec_spaz (968690) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:19PM (#15572387) Homepage
    The END in Near! I can see it now...Robots running amok, pulling the heads off of small furry creatures, killing babies, mameing everything in there path, then, BSOD.
  • why so much fuss? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kalinago (978201) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:23PM (#15572414) Homepage
    Microsoft is definitely a newcomer in the territory of designing applications for this market.

    On the other hand, most industrial robots for Welding/Automotive/Manufacture production are basically soulless drones that follow repetitive sequences of greater/lesser complexity written in ladder logic or some proprietary language; and the "brains" is generally a PLC. Popular proprietary PLC systems (Rockwell, Siemens) rely on Windows based software to download your ladder logic program and update the firmware. So it's still Windows after all.

    So in theory, this is a market where microsoft should not encounter much trouble.

    I believe most /.'s are concerned over high end robotics programming; truly making decisions, neural network based, AI, vision controlled ones, path finding...'top of the heap' applications that are non mainstream and limited to research or hi-tech chemical/petroleum/aerospace industries. I don't know much about numbers, but I doubt that this is makes up a significant market share, even today. So I'm betting Microsoft eyes may be set upon the first option, as most plant floor operations are becoming fully automated even in developing countries.

    --
    forget past mistakes, and condemn yourself to repeat them.
  • Problem (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ptelligence (685287)
    The centralized windows style architecture isn't going to work as well for robotics as it has for PCs. (not that I think it works all that well anyway) After reading K. Kelly's Out of Control, I am convinced that decentralized command is the way to go. A bunch of small dumb parts make basic decisions with influence from other parts around them. MS will create an API to capture the mindshare of robotics developers, and it will work, but when they try to port their OS to robots, its going to fail miserabl
  • "Please put down your weapon, you have twenty seconds to comply!"

  • Uh huh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ObjetDart (700355) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:29PM (#15572453)
    He cited estimates predicting that consumer robotics alone will grow into a multibillion-dollar industry in five to 10 years."


    I remember the last time I heard that, it was... oh, about five or 10 years ago.

  • by plusser (685253) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:35PM (#15572482)
    When it comes to robotics, Microsoft need to understand that they are not electromechnical engineers. There have been many "False Dawns" with the idea of robitics in the home, many problems are down to the fact that the robots need to interact with the most illogical lifeform on the planet - Man! When you consider that the market leaders in robots are mainly Japanise Car Manufacturers, whom only build demonstration models to show off how good they are at building robots. I can think of only two companies that have attempted to sell robots in the domestic market, Sony and its err.. Dog, and Dyson with a robotic vacumm cleaner.

    The biggest problem with robots in our homes is safety. No only does the robot have to perform complex tasks that may appear easy to humans, but it also has to ensure that humans do not come into danger as a result. With the kind of blame culture in the West, it would be crazy to think that anybody will enter this market without understanding the implications of a lawsuit. That's why robots are good in environments where human access is restricted, such as the factory or on a space mission.

    My advice to Microsoft is simple, continue what you are good at - screwing all those companies (especially those with less ethical business practices) with your high priced Operating Systems and Office Solutions for use in business IT systems. Yes, those of us in the know will continually priase Linux or Apple (and save lots of money in the process by buying a more suited product) and maybe think that the XBox is possibly a good product.

    However, if Microsoft think they can bring some innovative to the market, they better get in contact with the high reliability electronics market - robots are not going to be consumer devices anyday soon...
    • I can think of only two companies that have attempted to sell robots in the domestic market, Sony and its err.. Dog, and Dyson with a robotic vacumm cleaner.

      Um, iRobot [irobot.com]? The Roomba [irobot.com] (and the Scooba [irobot.com], more recently)? They're much more well-known than Dyson's robotic vacuum, and much more useful and reasonably priced than the Aibo. The Roomba and Scooba seem to fulfill the goals of safety and functionality. They have a simple enough task that safety is just a matter of stopping if something is in their way, and they have dedicated hardware to do their job.

      Admittedly, they aren't general-purpose robots, but I predict that specialized robots like the ones iRobot makes will be much more commonplace and useful than humanoid robots that can vaguely interact with real humans, wander around, and not do much else. Building a robot for the purpose of vacuuming or mopping a floor is 1000x easier than building a robot that could learn how to vacuum, if you gave it an upright vacuum and it had the dexterity to operate it. Robots should not use human tools, they should be tools.

    • I think the idea is that they write embedded OS, APIs, and other tools to allow easy development of robotics by manufacturers. They aren't researching and developing their own, simply trying to become the dominent platform for an emurging market.
    • Omron Corporation is making a robotic cat as well [necoro.com].

      And Dyson wasn't really first, Electrolux [electrolux.se] was the first company in the world to develop a robotic vacuum cleaner. (One of my previous professors was on the development team). Several others have followed, btw.

      Finally, I've seen robotic lawn mowers as well (my boss owns one), several brands on the market. The first one was from Husqvarna, I think. The concept is quite similar to the vacuum cleaner concept, though, it's really the same principle.
    • When it comes to robotics, Microsoft need to understand that they are not electromechnical engineers.

      To be fair.... Microsoft wasn't a video game console company in 1995. Neither were they an Office Suite product company back in the early 80's.

      Heck... From my understanding, before Win3.1 dominated the market, they made most of their money off the Microsoft Mouse sales.

      Come to think of it... MS has plenty of hardware experience.
  • As long as it weighs less than 20kg, has no sharp objects, runs on 12VDC, has nothing combustible, and avoids human contact we're fine.
  • 5 to 10 years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pedrito (94783) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:37PM (#15572501) Homepage
    He cited estimates predicting that consumer robotics alone will grow into a multibillion-dollar industry in five to 10 years.

    The guy who cited these statistics probably agreed that 640K was more memory than anyone would ever need.

    First of all, there's simply nothing to base this on. How many households currently have consumer robotics? Percentage-wise, it may as well be 0%, because it's pretty damn close to that. So how can you possibly predict that consumers are going to buy billions of dollars worth of something that doesn't even exist in anything other than a manufacturing, hobbiest, or neat but useless gadget category?

    Before you can make a prediction like this, we really ought to see one or two robots that look like they might do something consumers would want. And don't even tell me about the robotic lawn mowers. Show me one that doesn't involve border wires (most people don't want to be bothered) and doesn't have to be monitored so it doesn't run over the dog/cat/baby. Robotic vaccuum cleaners, maybe, but show me one that has enough power to really vaccuum, isn't bound by a cable, and can navigate a staircase.

    Sorry, but I simply don't believe we're 5 to 10 years away from robotics being a "multibillion dollar industry". 15, maybe 20, but not 5-10. I just don't see it happening. Robotics simply hasn't progressed all that far in the past 10 years compared to a lot of other consumer electronics (DVRs, computers, iPods, etc)
    • Re:5 to 10 years? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Saeger (456549)
      Sorry, but I simply don't believe we're 5 to 10 years away from robotics being a "multibillion dollar industry".

      Then you'd be wrong -- just as wrong as the naysayers were in 1995 when they proclaimed "this Internet thing [kurzweilai.net] is just a fad", because they hadn't internalized how exponential progress [wikipedia.org] works in ALL evolutionary systems, and then projected forward based on the doubling rate of nodes being added to the net. And yes, past performance IS very indicative of future performance when it comes to evolutionar
  • by unity100 (970058) * on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:41PM (#15572513) Homepage Journal
    They didnt give info on its history in Star Trek. It seems they didnt want to spoil the fun : we are going to see what happens by LIVING it.
  • by fbg111 (529550) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:49PM (#15572565)
    Embrace, Extend, Extinguish takes on a whole new meaning...
  • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday June 20, 2006 @05:58PM (#15572626)
    And I quote... Off the back cover of the book, The Singularity is Near [wikipedia.org] by Ray Kurzweil [wikipedia.org]

    "Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations--transforming our lives in ways we can't yet imagine."
    -Bill Gates

    This single quote has made me go "Hrm... Thats odd." If you are a futurist/transhumanist advocate it is understandable why you would advocate the book. However, a straight faced businessman who happens to be one of the most wealthiest men on the planet (next to that guy from ikea) starts to laude and praise this book at the future... Well... It makes me wonder what Gates has planned.

    If you haven't read this book, then get it, put some time aside and give it a thorough reading. I'm sure there are something things that we all disagree with in the book (including myself) but it has to be one of the most logical explanations of the Age of GNR (Genetics, Nantotechnology, and Robotics) we are about to embark in 10-40 years.

    With that in mind, I believe Robotics is the next big boom (as the internet was in the late 1990's) and within the next 10 years robotics will have affected us more than internet has. Think Roomba, DARPA Urban grand challenge, unnamed flight, and so on...

    I wouldn't put it past Bill to know what is going on here (although he did bungle on predicting the importance of the internet back in the early 90's).

    So I think this is an attempt to at least be in the game if and when the robotics boom arrives.
  • [Evil Robot Bill and Evil Robot Balmer arrive at 2088]

    Evil Robot Bill: Not bad...

    Evil Robot Balmer: Yeah. Let's make it bad.

    Evil Robot Bill, Evil Robot Balmer: Fags!

    Evil Robot Balmer: Aim for the cat, dude! Aim for a cat!

    Evil Robot Balmer: I got a full-on robot chubby.

    Evil Robot Bill: I totally loogied on that good, dead me!

  • Time to invest in Robot Insurance [robotmarketplace.com]...
  • A friendly robot wizard that turns into a Dalek if you can't find your wpa key.
  • Tandy Trower, general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group

    That's gold - in Australia, 'Radio Shack' is known as 'Tandy Electronics'. That's as good as the producer of NCIS beiong named 'Frank Military'

  • ...putting the death in BSoD!
  • First Microsoft misses the whole internet thing, at least twice (browsers, search), now they're getting on the robotics bandwagon 20 years late. Ho hum.

    http://world.honda.com/ASIMO/history/ [honda.com]

  • Suddenly I lost sense of humour.

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