The latest beta of Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (RDS4 beta) aims to exploit the opportunities opened up by the Kinect sensor for transforming robots to low-cost mainstream consumer devices. To promote its use Microsoft is running the Robotics@Home competition.
With RDS4 beta simulation tools, you don't need physical hardware to develop a Kinect-based robot! As part of this beta release Microsoft has published a reference platform design specification for a standardized Kinect-based robot, to work with RDS4 beta and Parallax, Inc has manufactured a hardware kit based on this reference platform design specification which is available for pre-order now. RDS4 beta also adds support for .NET Framework 4, XNA Game Studio 4.0, and Visual Studio 2010.
RDS supports a broad set of robotics platforms by either running directly on the platform (if it has an embedded PC running Windows) or controlling it from a Windows PC through a communication channel such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. In addition to providing support for Visual Studio 2010, RDS 4 Beta provides a Visual Programming Language (VPL) which allows developers to create applications simply by dragging and dropping components onto a canvas and wiring them together.
The Visual Simulation Environment (VSE) provides a high-fidelity simulation environment powered by the PhysX engine - better known for game-quality 3D simulations with real-world physics interactions and tutorials that illustrate how to write applications ranging from simple "Hello Robot" to complex applications that simultaneously run on multiple robots.
Microsoft have also released a robot platform specifically to make using RDS easy. Eddie costs around $1200 and you can mount a laptop and a Kinect on top to product an autonomous test machine for use with RDS. There are cheaper options, TurtleBot for example, but this works out of the box with RDS.
RDS's support for Kinect, XNA Game Studio and Visual Studio 2010 means that robotics is no longer the preserve of a select elite. And the Robotics@Home competition is part of Microsoft's strategy to stimulate robotics research.
For the first round of the @home robot competition launched eligible participants, namely students aged 16 and over in higher in accredited educational institutions (including homeschools) located in the 50 United States (including the District of Columbia) or those employed in the field of software research or development have to submit a scenario for @home robot usage before the new deadline of December 301st. Ten finalists will then be selected to receive a real robot to be used to bring their concepts to life and submit a video of their robots in action before April 30, 2012. A grand prize winner will be selected and awarded up to $10,000!
There are three main categories to use as a guide for @home robot usage scenarios:
Consumer Usage Scenarios: Gaming, Video, Music, Security, Productivity, Education, etc.
Human Robot Interaction: Gestures, Speech, Behaviors, Skeletal Tracking, Face Detection, etc.
Autonomous Navigation: Smart Drive, SLAM, Metric Maps, Obstacle Detection, etc.
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