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Robots, Incorporated

Microsoft’s best and brightest are quietly trying to bring robotics into the mainstream

14 min read
Robots, Incorporated
Photo: Brian Smale

Software pundits and tech analysts can be forgiven for overlooking Microsoft’s new robotics group. Compared with the company’s billion-dollar businesses—Windows, MSN, Xbox, and more—robotics is nonexistent. Microsoft is giving the group’s software away for free for noncommercial use. In other ways, robotics is merely minuscule. And indeed, the company is hardly betting the farm on it, having devoted only 11 of its 76 000 employees to creating Robotics Studio 1.0.

Yet this tiny group of elite software engineers, housed in a small set of open offices known as the “Broom Closet,” handpicked by a 26-year company veteran who has the ear of Bill Gates, and tucked into a tiny corner of the company’s research budget, has put together a set of tools that may bring robot manufacturers under one roof, the way Windows did for most PC makers. Indeed, future versions may someday find their way into more machines than Windows did—and be just as lucrative. Microsoft’s eventual plan is to charge users US $399 to license up to 200 copies of the software components that go into a commercial robot.

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Colorful chip with wires coming out of it surrounded by large metal plates.

Engineers probe the performance of noisy bits that, when working together, may solve some problems better than quantum computers.

Lang Zeng/Beihang University

A large universal quantum computer is still an engineering dream, but machines designed to leverage quantum effects to solve specific classes of problems—such as D-wave’s computers—are alive and well. But an unlikely rival could challenge these specialized machines: computers built from purposely noisy parts.

This week at the IEEE International Electron Device Meeting (IEDM 2022), engineers unveiled several advances that bring a large-scale probabilistic computer closer to reality than ever before.

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How PostScript Kickstarted Desktop Publishing

Adobe’s PostScript became the heart of the digital printing press

8 min read
An illustration consisting of a spiral of calligraphy-style lettering that repeatedly spells the word “infinity”.

“Infinity Circle,” by Xerox PARC researcher Scott Kim, was made using JaM, predecessor to PostScript.

Adobe

The story of PostScript has many different facets. It is a story about profound changes in human literacy as well as a story of trade secrets within source code. It is a story about the importance of teams and of geometry. And it is a story of the motivations and educations of engineer-entrepreneurs.

The Computer History Museum is excited to publicly release, for the first time, the source code for the breakthrough printing technology, PostScript. (Register to download the code here.) We thank Adobe for the company’s permission and support, and Adobe cofounder John Warnock for championing this release.

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Industrial Functional Safety Training from UL Solutions

Build knowledge and skills to better navigate today's functional safety landscape

3 min read

UL Solutions offer personnel certification at both the professional and expert levels in automotive, autonomous vehicles, electronics and semiconductors, machinery, industrial automation, and cybersecurity.

UL Solutions

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