Why business users should grab a copy of Microsoft's new robotics toolkit

If you're a business user who thinks Aibos and sumo robots are fun and cute but irrelevant to the enterprise-software world, read on.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

If you're a business user who thinks Aibos and sumo robots are fun and cute but irrelevant to the enterprise-software world, read on.

On April 9, Microsoft is delivering a first test release of the third iteration of its robotics toolkit, Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 2008. The final version of the Windows-based development environment is aimed at academics, hobbyists and other programmers who want to write robotic programs, is due by the end of this year.

There have been more than 200,000 downloads of the current version (1.5) of the Microsoft Robotics Studio toolkit, said Tandy Trower, General Manager of Microsoft's Robotics Group. And more than a few of these have been from companies like SAP, Siemens and MySpace. These companies aren't building robots; they're interested in some of the other elements in the guts of the robotics toolkit, Trower said.

"We're seeing interested in the enterprise space," Trower said, "for mail handling, financial trading, scientific modeling" and other business applications.

Businesses have discovered that the Microsoft Robotics Studio includes technology that is suited for programming multicore, distributed systems. Specifically, businesses are quite interested in the concurrency and coordination (CCR) and decentralized software services (DSS) runtimes that are currently embedded in the robotics toolkit, Trower said. These runtimes are part of the evolving multicore/distributed programming model into which Microsoft and other tech vendors starting to plow lots of money and development work.

Trower's team has improved the distributed computational capabilities of the forthcoming version of the toolkit, he said, by building in support for distributed language integrated queries (LINQ), "which reduces network utilization and simplifies service authoring," according to Microsoft's April 9 press release.

"In the Microsoft Robotics Studio, you see the new programming model we are creating at Microsoft," Trower said.

The developer division at Microsoft is in the process of integrating the CCR library into the parallel frameworks it is devising (but not specifically into the Parallel FX parallel extensions to the .Net Framework), Trower said. Ultimately, Microsoft is planning to make CCR part of Visual Studio itself and possibly even part of the Common Language Runtime (CLR), he said. Microsoft's Mobile and Embedded teams are planning on integrating CCR and DSS into their own toolkits, as well, Trower said.

MySpace already uses CCR to help program across its own distributed network, Trower said. Does that mean Microsoft's own Web 2.0/cloud-computing teams are using these technologies, as well?

"We're working with cloud-based services under (Chief Software Architect Ray) Ozzie and other teams inside Microsoft," Trower said. "Half our time these days is in these (internal) integration efforts. We are talking to Microsoft about integrating into their (services) platforms."

Trower said he was not at liberty to divulge more specifics now, but he said we'll "hear more about that in the coming months."

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