Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Even robots have their heads in the 'cloud'

Windows Azure will power even robots. Microsoft's robotics group is experimenting with cloud computing as a technique to provide more advanced functions to robots while keeping the cost of a particular unit affordable for customers.

At Microsoft's PDC event last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Tandy Trower, who is general manager of the division. He explained that future robots will not be running in isolation; rather, they will have strong broadband connections.

That will enable Microsoft to offload processing power to the cloud or other computing power within the home; another advantage is a wider range of form factors.

Another advantage is that the cloud preserves investment. When a robot enters the home it learns and adapts to the home space, he explained. But when a new model comes out, that learning is lost. The cloud model stores that learning so that a new home robot can pick up where the other left off.

"We do see wireless connections as being essential to the future of personal robots as it allows greater compute power and information access that robots will need. But the cloud isn’t the only resource that wireless connectivity will offer. It will also enable the potential of harness information and compute power by other PCs in the home (or work) environment. The distributed nature of our architecture (afforded by DSS) makes it easy for development of these scenarios as, except for bandwidth performance, applications can written where services written to the DSS protocol can run on any compatible computing device," he wrote in an e-mail sent today.

In his e-mail Trower noted that CCR (and DSS) can already be used with Windows Azure. "We also included a sample ASP.Net application in the CCR & DSS Toolkit," he added.

The division is one of the smallest product groups within Microsoft, but it has managed to ship technology called Concurrency and Coordination Runtime (CCR) that is used to manage resources on the back end of Web sites including Microsoft's own and MySpace.

The Robotics Group’s main result to date has been the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio, which consists of the CCR and Decentralized Software Services (DSS), a distributed run time.

Put simply, CCR coordinates components and transactions, and its companion DSS scales out across networks, or down in the case of robots, pushing SOA to tiny devices, Trower said in a previous interview.

The division announced at PDC that it was working on a road map to hand over CCR and DSS to Microsoft's developer division, and that those technologies would surface in the version of the .NET Framework after .NET 4.0. In the meantime, the group will continue to maintain them. "Our business is robotics," he said, "We are not trying to compete with .NET."

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