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Microsoft ups the ante in the robotics market, makes MSRDS free May 20, 2010

Posted by emiliekopp in industry robot spotlight.
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An exciting post on the IEEE Spectrum Automaton Blog from Erico Guizzo, fellow robotics blogger: Microsoft Shifts Robotics Strategy, Makes Robotics Studio Available Free

New MSRDS simluation environment (photo from Automaton Blog)

It seems Microsoft is taking a similar approach to Willow Garage and is now offering its development tools for free, in efforts to gain widespread adoption in the robotics market.

I, for one, am excited to see this play out and welcome Microsoft’s increased investment in the robotics market. I’ve seen first hand that MSRDS plus LabVIEW can be a powerful combination of simulation and graphical programming tools.

But keep in mind, lowering the boundary to robotics not only means making your development software available to the masses with free/low-cost, hobbyist options. It also means making sure that technology is put in the hands of tomorrow’s engineers and scientists and leveraging other key industry players like LEGO and FIRST to reach students.

And it means making your tools open to other design platforms, so the roboticist is free to leverage any and every development tool that makes sense. Disruptive technologies like multicore processors, FPGAs and increasingly sophisticated commercial sensors are providing an exciting landscape for robotics developers out there. They need intuitive design tools to piece everything together. Hopefully Willow Garage (ROS), Microsoft (MSRDS) and NI (LabVIEW) will continue to find ways to optimize this.

What do you think?

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Comments»

1. Pavan B - May 25, 2010

Why can’t LV Robotics tool be free too or lower in cost. For that matter why not LV. OS’es are free and stable (CentOS – RHEL). There’s Open Office, Scilab…. What about making money from services/toolkits?

p

emiliekopp - May 27, 2010

Well, the short answer is, NI does not have the luxury of offering its software for free. Microsoft’s and Willow Garage’s (financially backed by Google, keep in mind) main approach is to saturate the robotics market with free software for now. They don’t have to make money right now but eventually one day, they can start charging for some of their services and products, once everyone has adopted them; there simply will be no other choice (at least, that’s their hope).

The way I see it, NI is focusing on providing an industry-grade robotics development tool that is not only backed by years of software design (LV has been around for ~25 years), but also has premium technical support. It costs more money up front, but could be worth it in the long run for the people investing in sophisticated robot designs. When you’re dealing with free software, you’re typically on your own on piecing things together.

Plus, NI makes LabVIEW as open as possible to other design platforms, so NI is not asking you to pick one and stick with it. It actually wants you to utilize everything that makes sense.

However, I tend to agree, in the higher scheme of things, it would be nice if there was a free version of regular LabVIEW for people to at least try. And technically, you can get it for free; you can download an evaluation version, or if you’re a student, you have access to free licenses. Additionally, I know NI has released (or will release soon) a LabVIEW Student Edition that anyone can get their hands on and this will be much more affordable (if not free, I can’t remember what they finally decided).

So, Pavan, you raise a good point. And the real difference is simply in the strategies. Microsoft and Willow Garage are very similar in their strategies. NI is making a different play in the robotics industry. I guess time will tell to see what works.

2. Pavan - May 29, 2010

Appreciate the response.

Pavan

3. Iris - July 20, 2010

Hi Pavan

It’s time to move away from LV. Visual studio 2010 is easier to use than LV. Generates more professional code that can be used across system without much more than an internet browser, and does not come with costly and annoying licensing conditions. I moved away from LV when I had to buy a deployment licence for switch executive. It’s not just the cost. If a machine needs to be rebuilt for some reason in the future good luck…

emiliekopp - July 23, 2010

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Iris. Have you used LabVIEW much for robotics development? Or are you just speaking in general, across all industries?

I’d like to point out that you can build LabVIEW applications that can be deployed to how ever many systems you want, without any additional licensing fees. It’s only in a few rare cases, like with your Switch Executive software, that you may run into additional fees. But LabVIEW does a lot more than just switch management.

Additionally, I’d also like to better understand what you meant about rebuilding machines in the future. I’ve seen, across several industries, that LabVIEW can be ideal for obsolescence management, especially when you’re dealing with hardware. The built-in DAQ drivers and modular functions make it simple to upgrade systems with new hardware without having to rewrite code from scratch.


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