Spectrum's current issue has a great article on Microsoft's quiet yet bold robotics initiative. Senior Associate Editor Steven Cherry spent a day in the "Broom Closet," the small office area tucked somewhere in the Redmond campus where a small software development group is trying to do for robotics what Microsoft did for personal computing. Below, a Q&A with Cherry:
Automaton: So Microsoft has set out to dominate the robotics universe with its Robotics Studio, which is not an operating system. So what is it?
Cherry: MSRS, as they call it, has the same goal as an operating systemâ''to create a common platform for developers. And it includes what are in effect libraries of code that let higher-level developers create software without delving much into the physical details of this companyâ''s robotic limbs or that oneâ''s sensors. If you start with one arm and switch to another, for example, the commands for up, down, grasp, release, and so forth will be the same.
Automaton: And who is using it? Or who will use it?
Cherry: The platform is still quite new, but my understanding is there are quite a few companies working with it already, from the German automation giant Kuka to iRobot, which makes the Roomba.
Automaton: You were in the Broom Closet. When did you come out?
Cherry: Very funny.
Automaton: So what's the mood there?
Cherry: Well, for one thing, itâ''s fun. Imagine you took a regular software group and plunked it down into Willy Wonka's factory. You may see all sorts of things crawling around, but sometimes there are just programmers quietly staring at their screens. The group does believe they're doing something important. That's the atmosphere. They are just 11, actually now 12, people out of 76 000 Microsoft employees. But they are dreaming big.