Microsoft, Focused On Robotics, Goes With A Free Model

by Ostatic Staff - May. 21, 2010

As we reported yesterday when discussing the new open source Qbo robot, it joins a growing field of increasingly capable robots that run on free, open source platforms. In Qbo's case, Linux is the underlying platform, and an open source software stack sits on top of it. The fact that both the operating system and software stack on top of it are free means that substantial costs in producing Qbo robots are driven out of the equation. Working with that same concept, Microsoft has unveiled a new initiative to try and dominate robotics, by making its robotics software free.

Specifically, Microsoft has announced that its Robotics Developer Studio suite is now free, and now incorporates numerous robotics-focused software components that come free with it. As open source and free software continues to gain momentum in the robotics space, the move from Microsoft is a good one.

In a post on Automaton, Microsoft's Stathis Papaefstathiou, who leads the company's robotics group is quoted on the topic:

"We decided to take out all of the barriers that today our users might have in order to help them build these new [robotic] technologies."

Many roboticists have noted that there isn't enough funding in their field, and the costs for useful consumer robots remain high. In many cases, most of what buyers are paying for in consumer robots is sophisticated, proprietary software.

As we noted in discussing Qbo yesterday, though, robots based on open source software can be highly sophisticated. Willow Garage is a notable group focused on open source robots.

Microsoft's decision to go to a free model with Robotics Developer Studio is timely and shrewd. If it does indeed usher in more robots and roboticists, the company may be able to monetize those trends without charging for software. The effort will be interesting to watch.