Friday, November 30, 2007
LEGO Mindstorms and Microsoft Robotics Studio
With the Robotics Framework Microsoft tries to establish a common platform for robotics. Right now, a lot of the hardware and software of a robot is specific for a device, say a robot arm. The robot arm itself needs to be accessed in a specific, non-standard way and the microcontroller (uC) controlling it has to be programmed, based on the type of uC and programming languages supported and preferred. This combination leads a highly compartmentalized environment, where exchange of parts and logic can only be accomplished at great costs.
In short, in the field of robotics is a shortage of standards and a common platform.
Microsoft compares this to the beginnings of the Personal Computer, where similar difficulties were encountered. This has been solved by the introduction of a common platform, the OS, where device manufacturers could write drivers to get their devices working on that platform and developers could write software for that same platform, controlling these devices. Also, because of that common platform, interchangeability of devices and software was improved significantly. For instance, if you need a new webcam, you just buy one at the shop, plug in the webcam and -in some cases- install the driver manually from cd if Windows doesn't recognize it.
Microsoft Robotics Studio is still in it's infant stages, but has already seen extensive use in the DARPA Challenge and is growing rapidly.
It is worth checking out Robotics Studio, if not for the robotics, perhaps the Concurrency and Coordination Runtime might interest you.It deals with a lot of issues also found in SOA architectures and could provide you with a pleasant environment to learn from.
So what about the LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit? I recently bought it and am looking forward to play with it! As closing statement, two links, one about a LEGO Mindstorms Warehouse project, where Mindstorms is used in combination with the Robotics Studio and Microsoft Biztalk(!) to build a warehouse to scale. Also a blog entry about the usage of Robotics Studio, with a bit of video.
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