It's been a while since we've heard Microsoft and robotics used in the same sentence. Once a leader in robotics development, with longtime Microsoft employee Tandy Trower at the helm, Microsoft launched its Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio 1.0 in 2006. In November 2009, seeing the opportunities in the future of health care robotics, Trower left the company to start Hoaloha Robotics, with Microsoft being relatively quiet on the robotics front and focusing more on cloud computing and other technologies. But Thursday's announcement of the free download of Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) in beta form has pushed Microsoft front and center back into robotics in a major way.
"The Kinect for Windows SDK opens up a world of possibilities to developers," said Anoop Gupta, an engineer at Microsoft Research, in a statement. "We can't wait to see what this community will create as we work together to build more natural, intuitive computing experiences."
One of the major challenges within the field of robotics is autonomy. For a robot to be autonomous, it must be able to create a digital map of its environment and understand its place within it. Tools have been created by roboticists over the years to accomplish this task, known as simultaneous localization and mapping, or SLAM. But the sensors used to build such maps have been either expensive and bulky or cheap and inaccurate.
Since the November 2010 release of the Microsoft Kinect, which replaced the traditional Xbox controller with a camera that translates motion of the movements of the video game player, robotics hackers have been taking advantage of the localization and mapping technology of the Kinect to create a myriad of applications, most of which are featured on YouTube.
The Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) in beta form will not only make it easier for the robotics community to use Kinect as a cheap and effective 3D mapping and gesture sensing device, it will also create a common platform that will enable robotics developers to save considerable time and money by having the ability to share code and piggyback on other's code to create their own motion enabling and gesture awareness robotics projects.
The download Kinect for Windows SDK works with Windows 7, and includes drivers, rich APIs for Raw Sensor Streams, natural user interfaces, installer documents and resource materials. The SDK provides Kinect capabilities to developers building applications with C++, C# or Visual Basic® using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. Download the software at http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/kinectsdk/default.aspx
One caveat to developers, however, is that the current free download release is restricted to development in the education and research fields, as the license does not permit commercial use of the Kinect peripheral. Microsoft states that it does, in fact, intend to release a commercial version of the SDK in the near future.