I popped into the Microsoft tent at Maker Faire yesterday and spied the new Robotics Developer Studio 4, a beta product that allows programmers to control robotic platforms from within Windows. Microsoft is focusing on the software for these robots and will depend on outside vendors to produce hobbyist and production systems for those who want to give things a try.
The program also features a simulator that allows you to send your robot out into the virtual world in order to see how it will react in certain situations. A company called Parallax will sell the robot kits in October, namely their clever little $999 robot named Eddie. Eddie requires a laptop and Kinect unit to run correctly. The Kinect gives Eddie stereo vision and voice sensing capabilities while the laptop runs his brain.
Eddie is a new type of robot from Parallax Inc. designed to foster creativity, innovation and experimentation. Compatible with Microsoft’s Robotics Developer Studio, Eddie can roam autonomously, see in 3D using the Microsoft Kinect™, and be driven remotely using a wireless controller.
The included control board uses the 8-core Propeller microcontroller to directly control two 12V motors and collect data from several sensors around the robot. The entire base is controlled over a simple USB connection and convenient open-source command interface.
Like Micosoft’s .NET Gadget Toolkit, Eddie and the RDS let hackers and hobbyists cobble together powerful tools using Microsoft software, a move that I suspect Microsoft hopes will discourage the use of the traditionally open source software platforms used for many robotics projects. While it doesn’t matter if Windows ends up in some kid’s school project, it does matter if that same kid installs Windows 10 on the Mars Rover prototype she’s building for Grumman a decade or so later.