Programming frameworks such as Pyro and network robot control servers such as Player/Stage are already used by Balch and others. But none of them has become a standard. And Microsoft has struggled to capture the market: the company’s WinCE software never took off as an embedded operating system for robots. As a result, integration remains a piecemeal, often onerous task.
“Integration is the hardest part of the process,” says Balch; in fact, for larger robotics projects, he’s contracted with companies that specialize in robotics integration, such as Evolution Robotics.
Paolo Pirjanian, president and CTO of Evolution Robotics, also attended the RoboBusiness conference this June, and was one of the few voices to express concerns about Microsoft’s move into robotics. He says it’s not just because his company markets its own ERSP robotics platform, which he says is “similar in spirit to MSRS.”
“I think it’s a positive signal to the industry,” Pirjanian says about Microsoft’s entry into robotics and about Trower’s statement at RoboBusiness that he sees the industry taking off in 5 to 10 years. However, Pirjanian says he’s concerned that adopting Microsoft’s product as a platform could marginalize an entire segment of robotics, one he feels is crucial for its future.
“Our vision [of robotics’ future] is embedded solutions onto low-cost hardware,” Pirjanian says. “In most robots in the near future, products will have to be cost-optimized,” he said. This, he added, would mean lower-cost processors–the type that could not support the overhead required by Windows and MSRS. Pirjanian pointed to the Roomba, which uses only a 16-bit processor, coupled with clever programming, to reach a consumer price point.
But small, specialized, and relatively unintelligent robots seem to have no place in the thinking of Microsoft’s Trower. He waxes enthusiastic about a day when his desktop computer can control household devices, displacing the autonomy of robots to a centralized source.