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In Pictures: Take a tour of Microsoft's robotics efforts

As robotics moves from the factory to the home, Microsoft is jumping on board

April 7, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The members of the Microsoft Robotics Group are betting that the robotics industry is about to take off.

Tandy Trower, general manager of the group, predicted that his 3-year-old department, which operates like a start-up inside Microsoft Corp., will go from a quiet unit to a major revenue source within five years.

That will happen, he said, because the industry is quickly moving from one that mostly supplies giant robotic machines to factories and manufacturing plants to an industry that is creating robotic aids and companions in our homes.

"It's becoming more than big robots that don't interact with people," said Trower. "We're looking at more personal robots. Robotics is evolving to something you will engage with and that will serve you in your life in some way." And Microsoft is hoping to develop the software that will run the machines that will keep us company, play with us and even take care of the country's growing elderly population.

Trower led Computerworld on a tour of Microsoft's robotics facility. The company isn't making the robots themselves, but it is making a robotics software platform.  During the tour, Microsoft engineers showed off robots -- some already on the market and some that are still in the works -- as examples of changes that are afoot in the industry..

Tandy Trower, general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group, talks about the recent advancement in robots, noting that Pleo, a robotic dinosaur toy, learns from its interactions and environment. Click to view larger image.
What roboticist doesn't love R2-D2? Trower says robotics is evolving to the point that a machine will engage with you and someday serve you, leaving today's toys far behind. Click to view larger image.
Trower shows off the iRobot Create, which is designed to help people understand the fundamentals of robots and how to write software to control them. He said the industry needs a standardized software platform, and that's what Microsoft is working on. Click to view larger image.
Trower calls the iRobi Q, presented by Yujin Robot, a PC on wheels, since it has an Intel Pentium processor and 512MB of memory. The iRobi Q may someday aid the country's growing elderly population. Click to view larger image.


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