Robots March on Microsoft, Linux

A while ago, I blogged about Microsoft’s foray into Robotics with its Robotics Studio software. Well the Microsoft robotics march continues, but this time the robots are marching on Microsoft due to a bit of synergy with Lego’s own robotics project. Thanks to the toy company, you can build your own robot.

Lego Robot Swiffer

Lego Mindstorms NXT includes LabView software from National Instruments, which lets robot makers program their machines by dragging and dropping icons on the screen instead of writing code. The software works with both Windows XP and recent versions of Mac OS X. Bluetooth wireless signals are supported, so finished robots can be controlled with compatible mobile phones.

The Lego Mindstorms NXT kit, which sells for about $250 and is aimed at children age 10 and older, will arrive in stores early [this] month; it can also be ordered at www.mindstorms.com. The Mindstorms kit includes 519 Lego Technic building blocks; sound, light and touch sensors; a 32-bit microprocessor called the NXT Intelligent Brick, which serves as the robot’s brain; and several motors. Batteries, however, are not included: six AA cells are required.

Lego, it turns out, was a major inspiration in getting Microsoft into the robotics business.

Even a software giant, it seems, has a soft spot for Legos.

"Lego was one of the motivating factors that got this started in the first place," said Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsoft’s robotics initiative, which launched in June. He explained how Lego had told Microsoft about its Mindstorms NXT plans several years ago, even as Trower was beginning to formulate what his group would be like.

Now Microsoft is hoping its robotics suite, which can help people design anything from simple robots to industrial projects, will be seen as an innovative step to getting more people interested in robots. He likens the state of robotics today to that of the early days of PCs.

The synergy with Lego might be great, but here’s a heads-up to Microsoft: Lego’s robots may be marching in your direction, but it looks like some robot enthusiasts are turning to Linux.

Chromet

To spur more development of robots at the hobbyist level, Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) is promoting a humanoid creature named HRP-2m Choromet. One problem with current robots, AIST says, is that they tend to be little more than remote-controlled devices. Another is that getting beyond that evolutionary stage tends to take a lot of cash.

Choromet, which bears a striking resemblance to the Transformers character Optimus Prime, comes with programmable software that runs on Linux. It was developed by General Robotix, one of two start-ups working under AIST together with Pirkus Robotix and Dai Nippon Technical Research Institute. The controller, which is driven in real time by AIST’s ArtLinux, was developed by Moving Eye, the other start-up in the group

I dunno. Sure, Choromet looks cool. But I’m thinking that Lego robot with the Swiffer attachment (pictured above) would be a lot handier around the house.


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