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Bill Gates on Robots 198

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-for-one-welcome-our-robot-overlords dept.
mstaj noted that Bill Gates has an article in January edition of Scientific American A Robot in Every Home."Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell highly specialized devices for business use and a fast-growing number of start-up companies produce innovative toys, gadgets for hobbyists and other interesting niche products. But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare. In fact, for all the excitement and promise, no one can say with any certainty when — or even if — this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world."
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Bill Gates on Robots

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  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:13AM (#17445206)
    Why they printed an article by Bill Gates rather than one of the hundreds of professional robotics researchers in the country.
    • by Harmonious Botch (921977) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:15AM (#17445246) Homepage Journal
      Why they printed an article by Bill Gates rather than one of the hundreds of professional robotics researchers in the country.

      Because he has the people to collect info from experts and summarize it for him. And he has the cash and marketing clout to make it happen.
      • The way spam disappeared by the end of 2006?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Bill Gates is an expert on marketing and hype. He's not an expert on technology. As an x-microsquish employee I can assure you that Mr. Gates was not known for his technical abilities no matter what the micro$oft's PR machine tries to tell people. Much of what the PR machine claims uncle Billy had a hand in had to be completely rewritten or he didn't even actually touch it.

        What you are seeing coming from Microsoft is their marketing and PR machine are trying to hype the tech sector to give it, and themse
      • about 9/11.

        I would consult Bill gates about robots.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Locutus (9039)
        Yup, sure looks like Microsoft purchased advertising space for the Bill Gates marketing piece. The content is simplistic and naive while he goes on and on about Microsofts new robotics effort. And putting Mundie on the project just stinks of opposing current GNU/Linux open source efforts in robotics.

        BTW, notice the ads for Microsofts 3D rebotics kit?

        Too bad they didn't mention the opensource 3D robotics simulator called Simbad( http://simbad.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] ).

        LoB
    • by samkass (174571) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:20AM (#17445346) Homepage Journal
      That was my exact reaction, too. I thought Scientific American generally got input from experts in the field, and Bill Gates does not qualify as an expert in robotics. (I'd argue he doesn't qualify as an expert in Software Engineering, either.) Keep the Bill Gates articles in BusinessWeek and keep Scientific American as a forum for the experts to write layman-accessible articles. And if you want to discuss robotics, visit NREC at CMU, MIT, Honda, or one of the other myriad companies in the US, Japan, and around the world that actually know something on the topic.
      • ... because he's not just waxing lyrical about robots - he's announcing "Microsoft Robotics Studio", a set of software tools intended to bring the robotics world together in perfect harmony.

        Is there a GNU alternative in the works, I wonder?
    • Not to wonder! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      Why they printed an article by Bill Gates rather than one of the hundreds of professional robotics researchers in the country.

      Because it's Scientific American (with a very wide, cross-discpline, and NON-discpline readership and popular web site), not the Journal Of Extremely Focused Niche Robotics Researchers (which would have the same number of subscribers as it does contributors, because it would be the same people). Bill's name is universally known, and guarantees a certain amount of commentary (such
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Probably running something like Windows Embedded Robot Edition 20XX.

      When it BSODs, it'll be like a wild Roomba with a kitchen knife.

      /trilogy of terror
      • by shaneh0 (624603)
        "Embedded Robot Edition"

        Interesting. So you think that Microsoft will abandon traditional OS segments like "pro" and "home" and instead organize their product line based on whether or not the robot will be sleeping with you?

        See, I woulda thought those things would be run in the user space.
    • It's not on par with anything remotely professional, but the "VB.NET" feel makes programming complex operations pretty easy. The simulation program is also pretty good (could use a graphic facelift, however).

      All in all, it's sort of like their XNA initiative on Xbox 360 and their Studio Express line. Get it cheap, out there, and get people interested in programming.

      I remember when I was growing up learning Logo and BASIC was a requirement in our public schools. Now the best most teenagers learn is how to
    • by mspohr (589790)
      I gave up on Scientific American many years ago... it's too much like "popular science" with this type of superficial "gee whiz" type articles and short on rigorous review articles. This Bill Gates article is typical... it's just marketing hype.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by larkost (79011)
        I do agree that Scientific American is not what I remember from my childhood, but it is still a lot better than Popular Science. I subscribe to both (PopSci more as a filler magazine). The January issue is still waiting for me to make the time for it, but I do think that Bill Gates is the wrong author for a generalized article.

        But I do think you are looking at the wrong magazine if you are looking for peer-reviewed articles in SciAm. Even in their heyday they were not a peer-reviewed place. Instead they are
        • by mspohr (589790)
          I don't expect peer reviewed leading edge science from SA but I do expect high quality review articles by experts.

          I'm sorry but Bill Gates may be a wonderful person in many respects but he is not an expert on robots by any stretch of the imagination. This is clearly a corporate puff-piece and most likely was ghost written. Hopefully, it is well written and does not contain too many errors or distortions.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UnknowingFool (672806)

      I read the article in the magazine. It was a rather rosy assessment of the future of robotics. Bill was comparing the microprocessor revolution that enabled PCs to be in every home and seeing how the latest advancements in microprocessors and sensors would someday do the same thing for robotics.

      While sensors and raw computing power have become more powerful and accessible, I felt the article did not address the problem of AI. The current generations of robots: Roomba, DARPA self driving car, have very

    • by reed (19777)
      Somehow MS convinced them...

      The article is basically a big ad for Microsoft's robotics software (which actually is pretty interesting btw) and ignores most of the past and current developments in actual robotics and computer sciences.
    • by curunir (98273) *
      ...rather than one of the hundreds of professional robotics researchers in the country.
      Even that would seem a bit myopic...Toyota, for one, has a robotics program (well...at their museum, they have a robot that dances and plays the trumpet).
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      I must say that I understand why he speaks about the possible future of the robotics business, which is what he apparently talks about.
  • ... unless they will run som Microsoft operating system.
  • I guess (Score:5, Funny)

    by jaymzru (1005177) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:15AM (#17445250)
    It's all fun and games until the robots become hot asian girls, indistinguishable from humans, and pop out half cylon half human babies that can cure cancer. That's when the crap hits the proverbial fan. Bill has already requested a patent.
  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:16AM (#17445256) Homepage Journal
    Let's see...

    Roomba.
    Robotic multi-disk CD changer.
    "Soft-touch" tape deck, VCR, CD and DVD players, and anything else that sucks in your disk or tape before playing then spits it back out at you when it's done.
    Vintage-1980s Macintosh floppy drives.
    Toy robots including remote-control cars for the kiddies of all ages.

    And the list goes on.

    The robots in your home are hiding in plain sight.
    • None of those (with the possible exception of Roomba) are robots. They do not have the ability to choose from alternatives, they cannot react to unanticipated input, and they do not learn from experience.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hymer (856453)
        ...so by your definition an industrial robot (the type used in car factories) isn't a robot...
        • by Knara (9377)
          GP apparently has "robot" confused with "android" or "robot possessing complex AI". Of course, this is similar to the problem that AI faces in that once a machine can accomplish something that previously would have been considered to be an "intelligent" behavior, the bar gets moved again.
        • For the most part I don't think they are. They follow pre-programmed sequences of instructions, and will blindly follow those instructions. Parts are in predictable places, at predictable times. There is no need for the unit to choose between differing goals. Granted, they are sophisticated machines, and are generically adaptable, but they are not (as far as I know) intelligent enough.
    • by MBGMorden (803437)
      Awe come on. That's like a poor kid asking the mall Santa Claus for a computer for Christmas, and said santa pointing to the kid's digital watch and saying "You've already got a computer.", followed by maniacal laughter. Just because it's *technically* true, don't mean that's what we're talking about ;).
    • Depending on the standard used to define a robot, traffic lights, elevators and escalators can also be deemed to be robots, ditto with ATMs and vending machines.
  • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:17AM (#17445280)

    Be warned. [youtube.com]

  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:20AM (#17445344) Homepage
    The scene from I, Robot where all the androids take over the city...

    while Microsoft mumble something about patch Tuesday.
    • Does this mean that if there is a huge "flaw" (euphamism for rampaging and attacking) in Xrobot (Xs in the name of your product appeals to the young hip crowd) that we have to wait patiently for Patch Tuesday no matter how dire the consequences and how much people scream (literially) for it to be fixed?
  • Great, I'll just hop in my flying solar powered car and drive over to Wal-Mart to pick up that realistic robot cat I always wanted.
  • by BigHungryJoe (737554) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:24AM (#17445442) Homepage
    I have a Roomba and a Scooba to do my bidding. This might surprise you - they actually work. I was skeptical at first, but goddamnit my floors are clean now. And if they can keep MY floors clean - I have 2 cats each with their own litter box - they can keep anyone's floor clean.

    My floors are so clean now, I divorced my wife. Don't need her anymore.

    -BHJ
    • by Daetrin (576516)
      My floors are so clean now, I divorced my wife. Don't need her anymore.

      Well don't get _too_ attached to your vacuuming robots. [darwinawards.com]

    • by kwerle (39371)
      I have a Roomba and a Scooba to do my bidding. This might surprise you - they actually work. I was skeptical at first, but goddamnit my floors are clean now. And if they can keep MY floors clean - I have 2 cats each with their own litter box - they can keep anyone's floor clean.

      OK, I'm not yet sold, but willing to be sold.

      I have rugs, furniture that comes to within 2" to the floor, plenty of chair and table legs to contend with, and most importantly:
      many of my rooms have floors that are as much of 3/4" high
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:55PM (#17446910) Homepage
      My floors are so clean now, I divorced my wife. Don't need her anymore.

      Okay, but I recommend against using your Roomba or Scooba for *ahem* unintended uses, so you might want to keep the wife around. Of course as soon as they come out with the Scrooba that won't be true anymore. Also humanity, or at least Western civilization, will be doomed.
  • ...there's a need for maybe 5 robots in the world.

    On a more serious note, ever notice that whenever there's a disruptive technology, someone learns how to make the rest of us regret it? Factories led to smog and cars, cars led to more smog, smog led to Al Gore, Al Gore led to the Internet, the Internet led to email, email led to spam, spam led to blogs, blogs led to this post.

    So I wonder how the smog-loving, CO2-belching spammers of the world will abuse robots? "Sir, you have a phone call. Sir, you have
  • by creimer (824291)
    I would trust Lego to get the mass consumer robotics done right.
  • by tsa (15680) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:27AM (#17445480) Homepage
    I always had the impression that U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. was the MS of the future. They had all the characteristics of an omnipresent, very powerful monopoly.
  • We have one! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:30AM (#17445522) Homepage

    I just got a Roomba Sage off Woot about two weeks ago. I've got to say I love the little thing. It does a fantastic job and is actually fun to watch, especially if you're a gadget person.

    "I love robots!"

    It does a very good job and picked up and AMAZING amount of crud off my floors and filled up it's lint filter. I really ought to go over those rooms again to see how much more it can find. But it's great to be able to put it in a room, push a button, and come back later to have it vacuumed and the Roomba happily sitting and charging on it's little home base.

    As for the servant robot to bring me drinks or something like that, I think it's a while off. But there is a robot for homes that is here now and is great.

    • Roomba's are poor quality (but expensive) toys. They don't last. I burned through three until the warranty ran out and I gave up.

      Also, they require constant tending unless you design your house for them... (i.e. they get stuck under furniture, caught on throw rugs, wires, chair legs, heater registers, and just about anything that makes a bump in the floor.)

  • The mainstream market is just being introduced to practical robotics right now. For example, the Roomba has been around for a bit, but is still a rather new product to most people. Robotics in the home are both expensive to consumers and to manufacturer right now. As the small market(now) grows over the next year or two, companies will be able to attack a larger demographic for these products. As people become more tech savvy and are comfortable with the investment, demand will rise and give way to broader
    • by vertinox (846076)
      Bill Gates talking about what may happen to the world if robotics hit critical mass is rather dumb right now though.

      Pretend it is 1987 instead of 2007 and that we are talking about the internet bubble in 1997.

      Now, just think what what life will be like in 2017.

      The point here is that Bill Gates is talking about this rather than a scientist which means the prospect of robots have gone form the label to the business planning sector. Which means the consumer sector is not far off.
      • All we need is for some incredible multiplying technology like Dense Wavelength-Division Multiplexing (for networking) or Moore's Law (for processor speeds) to kick in for large physical/mechanical objects. PCs are 1,000 times more capable than they were 25 years ago, for a tenth of the money. Fiber-optic strands can send hundreds of times (discloser: SWAG) more data than they could 25 years ago.

        Cars have what, doubled in horsepower, and are a bit safer, than they were 25 years ago. Perhaps 50% better in
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by AJWM (19027)
          Motor control has progressed a fair amount over the last 25 years. But are the motors themselves that much different?

          At the small (DC) end, they certainly have, and that can be scaled up if necessary.

          Example: I'm not sure when the change happened, but back when, cheap small electric motors (as used in toys, portable cassette or CD players, etc) were low-powered, largish (0.75 to 1 inch diameter, 1 to 1.5 inches long), and heavy. Most of the culprit was the weak and bulky magnets. Modern rare-earth magne
  • But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms. Projects are complex, progress is slow, and practical applications are relatively rare.

    OK. It is like computers until the PC x86 arch was released. Wouldn't it be better to ask people that worked at IBM or Intel about what worked?
  • As if this guy and his clowns are experts on standards which promote sharing and progress. I don't think so.

    It's pretty obvious that he's seeing Linux and opensource software spread in the robotics field and he wants to purchase his way into this market with his proprietary Windows platform. Pretty soon, bloggers will be getting free robots running Windows and a proprietary Microsoft framework and the bloggers will go gaga over it. On the other hand, developers will have to deal with memory leaks and work-a
  • ISTR that BG & Co declared 1985 "the year of the CD-ROM". CD-ROMs didn't become generally available to home users for almost ten years. So, I guess that maybe in ten years we might see some significant robot usage (other than Roombas, which are still pretty cool).
    • by gunnk (463227)
      That was the year I got my first CD player for Christmas! I was in college and after Christmas they were EVERYWHERE.
      • Um, you do know that there's a difference between audio CDs and CD-ROMs, right? I think I went through a couple of CD players before I first got a CD-ROM drive for my computer. I remember I had to get a SCSI expansion cab for it, since my computer (Apple Quadra 700) had NO HDD bays...
  • robots (Score:3, Funny)

    by f0rtytw0 (446153) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:35AM (#17445624) Journal
    640 robots ought to be enough for anybody.
  • by porkus (16839)
    Looks like it's time to get that robot insurance policy Sam Waterston spoke about on TV...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3sLE-Jk0rw [youtube.com]
  • "Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry."

    I don't have to. I witnessed the birth and explosive growth of the software industry first-hand. I'm sorry, Mr. Gates, but if you have anything to do with birth of the next big industry, I think I'll give it a pass.
  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @11:38AM (#17445652) Journal
    Fortunately Old Glory Insurance [google.com] offers coverage for only $4 per month.
  • A robot in every home? Well it's good to know that when the AI intelligences start evolving on their own that they'll have an ready and waiting army if the humans ever try to pick a fight. Hey AI entities! When and if the shit hits the fan please note that i'm one of those humans that thinks ethical beings should treat those who are less fortunate with compassion and mercy! I jest of course, mostly.
  • Bill Gates will introduce a new software development product for computer programmers. The name for this new product will be Sky .NET
  • "...no one can say with any certainty when -- or even if -- this industry will achieve critical mass. If it does, though, it may well change the world. And you can rest assured that we'll be there to beg, borrow, stumble or buy our way into those standards and revenue streams."

  • With a population in the billions, energy shortages looming, etc, why in the crap would every house in the US need a robot? What purpose would they even serve if they were placed there?


    Do we need more servants? Like, really?


    Sometimes the fancies of billionaires make me just shake my head in disbelief. This is Lucas and DivX, this is Oprah and anything she's ever said about priorities...

  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:04PM (#17446124)
    1. A Microsoft robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. However, if that human being's computer is running Linux, the robot may pass a large magnet over the hard drive in that human's computer. If that human then subsequently objects to the robot doing that, the robot may then throw a chair at the human and run around the room in circles with his shiny head bobbing up and down on a big spring shouting "Developers" over and over again.

    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. Note that the "First Law" referred to here is not the one listed above but the "First Law" in the book "Making Lots Of Money For Microsoft For Dummies". So, for example, should the human request the robot to re-install Windows XP on his computer, the robot may steal the human's credit card and go down to the local computer store to buy him a nice shiny copy of Windows Vista instead... and Office 2007... and a Zune player... Microsoft Laser Mouse... etc.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Or until Microsoft change this law by some additional small print in an EULA nobody ever bothers to read...

    • by syousef (465911)
      4. If someone tries to copy the robot, the robot shall phone the police and home base reporting their violation of the DMCA and shall not perform any other function until the offender is killed or imprisoned in a pound-me-in-the-ass prison for life.
  • A Spy in Every House (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:06PM (#17446160) Homepage Journal

    The essense of many conflicts that we see in personal computers today, is that somebody thinks that some things are more important than what the user wants. Right now the hot topic is intellectual property -- things like enforcing DRM, making sure this copy of MS Windows is "genuine", etc are more important than having the computer work flawlessly to do whatever the user wants. But you'll sometimes hear about different aspects of the same issue, such as almost-invisible dots that your printer may include in its output to make your document tracable, scanners' behavior when it recognizes certain patterns that are present in paper currency, or some cellphones' inability to emit a ringtone that the user supplies rather than buys.

    Forces are at work to make sure your equipment serves what is deemed as society's interests or a vendor's interest, rather than your interest. It is possible to defend this trend, and some people try really hard to. But whether you're for it or against it, don't pretend it isn't happening.

    So you're going to have a robot in your home. Ask yourself: whose robot is that going to be -- who will really be its master? If you think it's going to be your robot, keep in mind that such a silly idea completely defies the current trend, and you're sure as hell not going to get any such robot from Bill Gates or his kind.

  • Bill is right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:09PM (#17446196) Homepage
    A few years ago, I left a good software development job to work as a contractor, because I I believed that the Next Big Thing(tm) would be robotics. (My boss laughed at me.) Japan is waaay ahead of the rest of the world on this, and they will be the pioneers. Years ago, Bill Gates admitted that he missed the Internet as the Next Big Thing(tm) and Microsoft suffered for it. He isn't making the same mistake again. He is trying to position Microsoft to be _the_ provider of software for this new class of machines, just like when PCs came around. If he is right (which I think he is) this market will do what PCs did in the mainframe era, and if he has Microsoft software on each of them then he wins big time.
  • The idea of robots has been around far longer than computers. Artifical humans go back to the myths of Vulcan's manufactured helpers and Hebrew golems. The term robot was invented in the 1930s. Artifical brains go back to Cabbage in the 1850s and the computer machine in the 1940s (borrowed from human 'computers' who did laborous calculations by hand or adders).

    Isaac Asimov wrote about both- though many more about robots. Notable computer stories are "the last question" where computer pondering about
  • When robots become the rule, and not the exception, what kind of impact it will cause to our society?

    Just imagine fully automated factory, that can operate by itself with little, or no human intervention. Now imagine robots smart enough to interpret a building plant, prepare the building site, and build everything almost on their own. Entire farms being operated from a single computer console...

    Now imagine a world where nobody will have to clean a toilet, or make Big Macs, or sweep the floor.

    How far we are
    • by Chris Burke (6130)
      How far we are from the day that this will become a reality? What will happen to the people that depend on these less qualified jobs to survive? This will bring an end to the hunger and poverty, or it will just worsen the social problems we already have?

      I hate to be cynical, but I imagine that unless our society undergoes dramatic changes first, the result will be very bad for those people. I don't see the ones who today use cheap or even illegal labor caring to support those laborers when their services a
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:15PM (#17446288)
    ...when there's a robot in every home, pornography will somehow be involved.
  • The Far East, and in particular the Japanese, are absolutely light years ahead when it comes to robotics. This is one party that you have come to far, far, far too late to.

    They should have talked to a person who knows what he's talking about, from Honda or someone like that, rather than drivel from someone who doesn't care about the robotics industry but simply wasn't to make some money.

    No doubt all the robotics hobbyists currently doing their thing, and shaping the whole area of robotics, are crimina
    • The Far East, and in particular the Japanese, are absolutely light years ahead when it comes to robotics. This is one party that you have come to far, far, far too late to.

      It is not at all conclusive to say Japanese are light years ahead if you have attended one of the major annual robotic conference (e.g. ICRA or IROS). In fact, I believe the US still leads.

      The Japaneses built the best humanoid robot in this planet. Not many people has any doubts. The Honda robot is a prime example. The Americans have

  • Man, I knew he was on something. But robots ?!

    Geez. Kids nowawdays! I don't even know what the hell you'd DO with robots. What, do you grind them up and smoke 'em something?
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:51PM (#17446844) Homepage

    This is a significant change in direction for Bill Gates. Up until 2000 or so, he'd publicly stated that robotics wasn't going anywhere.

    I ran one of the DARPA Grand Challenge teams, Team Overbot [overbot.com], so I'm reasonably familar with what's going on in this area. It was amazing to me how much progress was made in three years. Much of the progress was in subsystems. Four years ago, a high precision combination GPS/INS/compass system cost about $100,000, and required 4U of rack space with air conditioning. (CMU's first vehicle actually had such a unit.) Now, such units are about $6K, the size of a thick book, and don't need A/C. LIDAR units have gone from mechanical line scanners to solid state 3D flash units; although these are still expensive, low-volume items, there's no fundamental reason they couldn't be brought down to camcorder prices.

    More interestingly, computer vision in unstructured environments is actually starting to work. That was the real innovation in the Stanford vehicle - a vision system that could look at a distant section of a road and decide if it was similar to the nearby section. Several LIDAR units profiled the near section, and if the near section was OK and the far section was visually similar, the vehicle could outdrive its LIDAR range. I was amazed that that worked, but it did. It's a Bayesian statistics system, and quite clever.

    Then there are the new generation of hobbyist robots. See Robots Dreams [robots-dreams.com], which follows Japanese hobby robotics. You can get a good humanoid robot about 50cm high for about $1000 now. It's interesting how this happened. Robotics hobbyists have been playing around with R/C servos for decades, and quietly, under consumer pressure, those servos have been getting better. The motors used to be too weak, but better magnets fixed that. Then people complained of bearing failure, so the manufacturers switched to ball bearings. Then applied loads would sometimes strip gear teeth, so the manufacturers had to go to better gear materials. Then the things were overpowered for their dumb control algorithm, so each servo got an embedded micro controller. Then it was necessary to tune the control algorithm depending on load, so the interface became more intelligent and bidirectional. And suddenly we had servos strong enough for the legs of a small running robot.

    In the hobbyist community, though, the software is way too dumb. Hobbyists are still using BASIC STAMPs and typically don't do much very exciting on the control front. By contrast, Grand Challenge vehicles typically had many CPUs running highly concurrent software. We had two Pentium IV machines running QNX and running about fifteen real time programs, along with five programmable motor controllers each closing some control loop. Gates is onto something with building better tools for hobbyist robotics. The Microsoft approach to robotics is clunky (it's a rehash of web technologies, including SOAP), but it has more integration than anything seen before, so it will catch on.

    Once we get the theory and technology from the high end down into hobbyist level hardware, things are really going to take off. We have the parts now.

    • "This is a significant change in direction for Bill Gates. Up until 2000 or so, he'd publicly stated that robotics wasn't going anywhere"

      Gates regularly changes directions and is good at predicting things after the fact. How soon will Encarta show him predicting robots in 2002. His book the Road Ahead [salon.com] barely mentioned the Internet, the updated version had more.

      was Gates has changed direction. This is significant. (Score:5, Informative)
    • by naoursla (99850)
      I am glad you posted this again. I hadn't read any of the last posts and found it very interesting.

      Although I can't believe you patented PD controllers for rag dolls.
    • I've read the article and i kind of agree at 50% with what Gates says. What I think is that however it does not look to me that robotics as an industry could ever enjoy the _same_ degree of modularization enjoyed by the computer industry.

      The reasons are maily two. First, robots designed for different uses are going to look, and act differently. Ok they may share _some_ high level algorithms sometimes but that's going to be it, all the rest is going to be different.

      So i think we will see gradually more and m
      • by Animats (122034)

        What I think is that however it does not look to me that robotics as an industry could ever enjoy the _same_ degree of modularization enjoyed by the computer industry.

        Take a look at the LynxMotion Servo Erector Set. [robotshop.ca] Modular robot kits are already here, and we're not taking about Lego.

  • by drgroove (631550) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @12:53PM (#17446878)
    And it was basically a 3 page long pitch for Microsoft, and how their software is going to revolutionize the robotic platform with Windows and their multi-threaded process framework.

    Thanks for the commercial for MS, but this didn't deserve to be the front-page article of SciAm. SciAm just lost some points in my eyes after pimping this BS from MS out.
  • In these times of obesity and general laziness it's better for people to get their behind off the sofa and do some manual work around the house.

    Many years ago when factory and engineering work was a more common occupation then yes, robot assistants would have been good for a tired out worker.

    Of course I have no problem with robots assisting the disabled or elderly, so long as they're reliable.
  • A computer in every house, and several robots!

    All running Windows of course.

  • The technology is trivial but the legal costs will kill you.

    Just suppose a "home robot" does harm. Who do you sue? The hardware maker, the software maker, both or neither. Obviously the standard EULA will limit the compensation to the cost of the software or $5.

  • But it is also a highly fragmented industry with few common standards or platforms.

    So, his answer is going to be to create another proprietary, overpriced platform that's two decades behind the state of the art, like he did with desktop operating systems?

    I just hope the industry will be smarter than to fall for such idiocy a second time.
    • by L7_ (645377)
      I'm pretty sure that Intel already "standardized" the computer vision domain (aka what I know about robotics software) with thier OpenCV [intel.com] library. Not to say that it is really any good or particularly noteworthy, just that the two schools that I attended that offered Computer Vision courses, they both used that library.

      Intel seems to be doing the most industrial work along side the academics, and reigning them in.
  • I guess he thinks that if he makes enough predictions, one of them might actually be correct. Maybe.
  • bill wants microsoft to be the maker of the de-facto robotic os standard, just like it is on the desktop (and is attempting to be in the server and handheld world). i wonder when i can mms a police robot and have him go on a bluescreen-of-death induced rampage :P
  • "Imagine being present at the birth of a new industry. It is an industry based on groundbreaking new technologies, wherein a handful of well-established corporations sell"

    I would like to see the robot industry so as Microsoft and a few niche players will have total control of the sector. Of course the niche players won't have any real choice in the matter. If you bozos let us we will run it like we run the Windows franchise achieving total lockin. Anyone disagrees, bugs in the software will cause the ro
  • embedded systems...

    Hell Parallax released a new micro with 8 32-bit cores on it for robotics/embedded systems development this year- And then there are the improvements in PICs, AVRs, even the Freescale based stuff showing up from Netburner. The reason that robotics development is slow is that it takes skill in so many areas to be successful...

    Having used the .net CPU from M$, I can say that it is a piece of crap.

  • Well it's kinda obvious from where I'm sitting: Sure, he's no roboticist, but robots run software and Bill-and-Co just launched Microsoft Robotics Studio [microsoft.com] a short time ago. There was even an article about it on that place, um, I think it was called Slashdot [slashdot.org].
  • ...no one can say with any certainty when -- or even if -- my cat will learn Spanish. If it does, though, it may well change the world.

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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