13 April

I am at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Rome, and Tandy Trower (general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group) gave a long presentation pitching Microsoft Robotics Studio to the robotics research community. The reaction was quite mixed. MSRS has a number in interesting features and it promises to help provide a standard easy-to-use interface for robotics enthusiasts and certain researchers. Most importantly, it is an endorsement of robotics as a field that is on the verge of really opening up and having major impact. This is consistent with the recent Scientific American cover story authored by Bill gates. On the other hand, it is a closed proprietary system and it may reduce the amount of innovation in robotics software, if it is successful. This is probably a natural consequence of the maturation of any field, and in particular a software-intensive one, so it is not necessarily a bad things.

Herman Bruyninckx from K.U Leuven (and head of Euron) gave a very spirited rebuttal to Trower and argued that every time Microsoft enters a new market the range of alternative solutions becomes much smaller and more polarized. He was quite provocative and got a very strong level of support from the audience. At present, there are several alternative open source robotics toolkits and packages around.

Part of Trower's presentation included a brief discussion os MSRS 1.5 beta, which will have more features than the current version. Of course, the open source Player/Stage software which is now widely used was also discussed and a call went out that this is a key time to support that effort. All in all, it was one of the most talked-about events at the conference.

Even if MS Robotics Studio fails to get traction with the research community due to functional limitations, it may bias a whole generation of students who eventually do robotics, and thus become an almost-unavoidable presence.


By Gregory Dudek at | Read (7) or Leave a comment |    
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

I hope this goes up on Google video. I'm also in two minds about MSRS, and at present I'm not using it. If the robotics industry is going to become much bigger than it is today building your system on top of a lot of proprietary software which requires a Microsoft operating system could turn out to be an expensive mistake.

If possible I would like to see robotics as a competitive industry where there is a balance of power and no single company has a monopoly over the technology.

Posted by: Bob Mottram at April 13,2007 12:31
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

I think what the "pursits" are missing is the major benefit that Microsoft's presence in this market can bring. Microsoft, given its marketing might can play a major role in legitimizing robotics as a real market and therefore spur other thousands of companies, VC's, etc. to start investing in this area. This can only benefit the whole industry including the researchers. Without a major commercial player, the robotics market will continue plodding along at a snail's pace as it has for the last 30 years.

Posted by: at April 24,2007 11:29
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

Guess my ears were burning a bit here.

A few comments in response here. First Microsoft has no ambitions to control the robotics industry. As I stated in my presentation at ICRA, our participation was the direct result of many in the research community (mostly from those that were not using Microsoft technology) to expand the market by offering an alternative.

Second, most of the services we include are provided as source that is licensed for anyone to modify and redistribute. Isn't that what the open source community is about?

True, we don't do that for our core runtime and tools but that's to ensure stability as we are not just addressing the needs of the research community, but also the other parts of the community as well, such as the commercial industry which requires stability and clear IP.

Further, there is ample room for others to fill in the gaps here. We don't require anyone to use our algorithms for navigation, recognition, and in fact in most case others will have to supply these.

What we currently offer is basic infrastructure, which by the way, uses industry recognized protocols like TCIP, HTTP, and XML. Applications constructed from our toolkit can therefore easily interact with code running on non-MS platforms.

To that extent, it may be interesting to note that we had a great discussion with Brian Gerkey and Richard Vaughn, two of the original founders of Player-Stage, inviting a dialogue about how we can create bridges between our development platform and P-S.

Finally note that we license our toolkit royalty free for non-commercial use. Commercial licenses are available for a very modest fee of $399.

I know some may still worry about Microsoft's intent, but this really isn't a closed offering. Anyone can extend and add to what is here. And we are still looking at how we can further open up what we have to the community.

I will admit our objective is to help encourage a commercial market, which is the only way the company will make money on this. Doesn't everyone want robotics to be more than research?

Posted by: Tandy Trower at May 07,2007 13:05
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

I had played with the MSRS last summer and also started a discussion on the features ,advantages and disadvantages on the Player-Stage user's mailing list after the initial release of MSRS.Well ,we had a mixed reaction even then as we have now.I believe a great number of people are excited to experiment with the new release of MSRS.

Posted by: Chandan Datta at May 08,2007 15:31
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

In respond to Tandy Trower,

Well, Microsoft is not really the model of industry which make the good around him ... Microsoft is a strong defender of DRM and partially won the game in this field. We have a new emergent field which is the robotic and a lot of work are in free access on the web. You can understand that seeing Microsoft interested in robotic can scare a number of people who largely develop under GNU/Linux and not under Windows. Robotic's future could be really interesting if it won't become the place of industrial war as the computer science field do.

And to quote opensourcecommunity.org :

"Come on, Microsoft! Open source it! It is software designed to help a new generation of scientists learn. Let 'em learn and help improve the learning material, too!"

Posted by: Baptiste at May 08,2007 17:47
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

Tandy, thanks for posting those observations and explanations.

Posted by: Greg Dudek at May 12,2007 13:53
Re: Tandy Trower and Microsoft Robotic Studio

To the " Baptiste" who suggested MS should open source the project, you are not alone in expressing this feeling. That said, I think it verges on being a ridiculous and totally unrealistic sentiment! Software companies, MS included, need to make money. There's nothing wrong with charging for a good product, and to expect a for-profit company to make serious mainstream projects open source does not seem realistic to me. It's nice when it happens, but it's often because the company either is losing market share, is desperate, doesn't care about the product, or is only opening up part of the IP. At any rate, it's hardy the default expectation from a significant player

Regardless of your concern about consolidation of the robotics software area, I think it is now very important for this product to succeed, or at least not to fail. If it doesn't succeed, it will be a major negative signal to those with money that robotics isn't ready for prime time.

Posted by: Gregory Dudek at May 12,2007 13:57
Please send trackback to:/blog/51/tbping

Posted by: ping from Anonymous Blog at April 24,2007 10:24
Microsoft Robotics Studio has Mixed Reaction by Academic Community

Interesting article written by Gregory Dudek, Director of the McGill Research Center for Intelligent Machines, where he describes the mixed reaction of International Conference on Robotics and Automation conference participants to a presentation "pitchin

Posted by: OpenSourceCommunity.org at May 06,2007 09:28


Posted by: boctaboboc at May 20,2009 02:27
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