23 June 2006

There has been a fair amount of noise this week about Microsoft’s Robotics Studio, announced as a common robotics development platform. Now this seems fairly cool, as the general idea is to be able to use .net - C# or VB(please use C#!) to program robots. Unfortunately, this is let down heavily by the fact that (and I quote) “The other thing to clarify is that we have no intention of running our bits on MCSs in general.” - that is, that the robot will have to be controlled remotely (via whatever protocol it already has) from a Windows machine.

It is worth noting, that beyond the hype, this announcement is actually on an incremental improvement on previously released stuff, and not a new thing. Still, it has certainly brought to the foreground something which has gone fairly quietly by until now.

It has been made clear that this will (via a remote control method) work with the Lego RCX, NXT, VEX and the FischerTechnik Robo Interface as well as many others. Now what would be interesting is to know if any of this (along with the required IO devices) could be ported to smaller platforms like Pocket PC’s and other WinCE/Windows Embedded systems. They can run the .net platform, but I have not had a lot of luck getting that kind of IO from the devices themselves.

Now if MS were to announce that they could compile down to native bytecode for the microcontrollers and let them then run standalone this would be much cooler - maybe in a couple of years that may be the case. Until then, may I suggest robot c (covered in Beta C Programming Solution For NXT announced ) and SDCC as alternatives that both use C, and compile to bytecode on multiple targets, with the RCX, NXT and VEX on the former, and PIC, 8051, Atmel AVR on the latter.

What is still very cool is that MS are sponsoring Carnegie Mellon University, who are relatively prolific in this field.

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