Microsoft is _desperate_ to find markets other than Windows-on-PC. This
includes a herculean - and doomed - effort to appear relevant in the
embedded systems market. I get an average of one call or email per
month from Microsoft recruiters. I regularly post these, and my
replies, on c.a.e and elsewhere, see for instance:
--Better get your patents in good order; you can bet your next
paycheck they're busy dissecting everything you sold them. Next will be
reverse engineering to brand their own version and undercut your retail
price. Ya know, the thing they remind me of the most is the China/Harbor
Freight model of entrepreneurship. I ain't buying it any more, heh.
"Steamboat Ed" Haas : Dedicated to Spinachio,
Hacking the Trailing Edge! : goddess of spinach..
Not much to dissect in a couple pieces of CAD-cut PVC. Budget Robotics
doesn't sell the fancy-dancy stuff.
If you watch the (somewhat long) video, it's clear their software is
really for factory automation. It's cool it can also be used on small
autonomous mobile robots, and maybe someday it will become a standard
for that. But for now I see the bigger business in writing software for
running conveyor belts that push candy bits around the factory. There's
more $$ for everyone in automation than in small robots, and it can be
almost as fun.
You have to give MS credit for calling it the "Robotics" group, as that
will get the attention of the press, and will help propel the software
to deeper uses. It seemed to have captivated the developers who worked
on the SDK -- you know, stuff they'd actually have a hard time keeping
their NDA over. How interested would people be if they called it the
"Factory Automation and Embedded Applications" group? Yawn. No one
cares, though that's where the money is.
I'll depart with some of the anti-MS crowd here and say that 1) their
entry into the robotics space is overdue, 2) no doubt the open source
community will rise to the occasion and copy what they do and offer a
Mono-like alternative so where's the beef, and 3) I don't fear MS nearly
as much as someone like Google. MS is K-Mart to Google's Wal-Mart. (And
no, I don't shop at Wal-Mart, but I do shop at Harbor Freight. Go
They won't, but their software will. Can you imagine a robotic
production line at GM or Ford stopping while they reboot the host
computers from their hourly GP fault? I can hear some operator saying
oh oh, got to ctrl alt delete the assembly line again! ;-)
Yeah, really. MS should pay me for the number of times I've come to
their defense lately! Seriously, I have to intentionally restart my XP
machine once a week, just to be on the safe side OTOH, with Windows 98
and ME, I had to reboot many times during the day. There's no question
that software was crap.
It's really simple: MS will not take over the world of robotics. They
can't take over the world of the Internet, and they've tried. But they
can bring a legitimacy to certain types of process control software.
MS's entry into any market tends to stir interest in that market. And
that market grows as a result. What's there to complain about that? All
you folks that were bemoaning the slow pace of hobby robotics, and this
group, don't bitch that MS sees an opportunity and is exploiting it.
Here's your chance to catch some of the wind they'll produce by entering
the race, and you can always improve on what they've done.
Modern factory automation is anything but mature. It's one of the
fastest growing industries in the world.
The *idea* of automation is hardly new. But so is an industry like
carmaking. You can't say the technologies behind cars is standing still.
The industry continues to evolve, which keeps people buying new cars. As
factories world over change out their old mechanical processes for
computer-controlled ones, the smart folks are waiting with their hands
outstretched to take their dollars.
I suspect MS is looking to make use of their hardware Xbox for a
hardware control platform. There is a home automation application
called Homeseer whose developers have made a box running embeded
windows for professional control setups. I suspect that MS may be
doing the same thing to control various types of systems in large
buildings and industrial settings. I doubt that there will be much new
stuff I/O wise, but they may add some slick GUI simulation that
do-it-yourself types don't spend time on developing.
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