Microsoft Releases Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta, New Robot Platform

Eddie is an inexpensive and hackable new platform from Microsoft, designed to work with their Kinect sensor and the new release of Robotics Developer Studio

2 min read
Microsoft Releases Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta, New Robot Platform

Microsoft, to their credit, has done a good job of embracing Kinect as a game-changing robotics tool instead of just a... A... A video game controller, was it? Well, whatever it was originally designed as, it's all about cheap and effective robotic 3D vision now. Microsoft knows that Kinect is a big deal for robotics enthusiasts of all kinds, and they've just announced the availability of a new beta release of Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio that incorporates the full Kinect SDK that was released back in June. This includes skeleton tracking, speech, and the raw Kinect data stream for creating 3D maps of your house (or anything else).

Besides the full-fledged Kinect integration, the other big news about RDS 4 is that for the first time, Microsoft has their own hardware reference platform designed to make it fast and easy (sort of) for consumers to get straight to programming without having to actually build themselves a robot. Eddie, pictured above, features a round multi-level design that incorporates a Kinect sensor and off-the-shelf laptop. ::cough::. ::cough again::. So yes, Eddie is clearly in the same class as both TurtleBot and Bilibot, which offer similar designs and capabilities and run ROS. We probably shouldn't create some kind of Mac vs. PC thing here, but strictly by the numbers, Eddie is a significantly more expensive proposition at $1200 assembled without a Kinect sensor or a laptop, while both TurtleBot and Bilibot cost the same amount including a Kinect sensor and a netbook.

Whether or not you decide to use Eddie and Microsoft RDS, it's always great to see companies like Microsoft embracing robotics by helping give more access to the developer community with free software releases and customized hardware platforms. As Microsoft puts it,

"This beta release is one of our early steps towards realizing our long term strategy of accelerating the consumer robotics industry. Our motivation in releasing these tools is to extend and democratize access to robotics development, bringing value to the space through ease-of-use, accessibility, and a robust existing developer community."

If you're interested in checking out the RDS 4 beta, you might also be interested in Microsoft's Robotics @ Home Contest, where you could win a free robot and possibly $10,000 for coming up with "a cool idea." Yep, that's it.

Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta is available for download for free, and includes a simulation environment to get you started without needing to buy any hardware at all. When you're ready to take the plunge, Eddie is also available now, directly from Parallax.

[ Eddie ]

[ Microsoft RDS 4 ]

[ Robotics @ Home ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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