Microsoft is demonstrating greater commitment to robotics by announcing Windows support for the Robot Operating System (ROS) and joining an industrial consortium.
ROS is a flexible framework that enables developers to write software for advanced robotic behaviours. While the collection of tools, libraries, and conventions has historically only had official support on Linux, developers will now be able to utilise the tools in Windows 10.
The move will see Microsoft work with Open Robotics and the ROS Industrial Consortium to bring the Robot Operating System to Windows.
Microsoft has also joined the Consortium, which works to extend the advanced capabilities of ROS into manufacturing and improve the productivity and return on investment of industrial robots.
ROS for Windows
Commenting on the announcement, Lou Amadio, principal software engineer, Windows IoT, said:
As robots have advanced, so have the development tools. We see robotics with artificial intelligence as universally accessible technology to augment human abilities. With ROS for Windows, developers will be able to use the familiar Visual Studio toolset along with rich AI and cloud features.
“We’re looking forward to bringing the intelligent edge to robotics by bringing advanced features like hardware-accelerated Windows Machine Learning, computer vision, Azure Cognitive Services, Azure IoT cloud services, and other Microsoft technologies to home, education, commercial, and industrial robots.
“Manufacturers want to make robots more aware of their surroundings, easier to programme, and safer to be around. Governments, manufacturers, and academics around the world are investing in the next generation of manufacturing, Industry 4.0.”
Microsoft will demonstrate a ROBOTIS Turtlebot 3 robot at this year’s ROSCon, running the ROS release known as Melodic Morenia.
The robot runs Windows 10 IoT Enterprise on an Intel Coffee Lake NUC using a new ROS node that employs hardware-accelerated Windows Machine Learning.
Microsoft is also showcasing a ROS simulation environment running in Azure. It will demonstrate a swarm of robots running in a virtual world connected to an orchestration system and controlled via Azure IoT Hub.
Internet of Business says
Creating general-purpose robot software is hard. With that in mind, ROS encourages collaborative robotics software development, bringing different research groups and companies with different, complementary skill sets together for the benefit of the wider community.
One group may excel in computer vision, while another is expert in object manipulation. ROS enables such groups to build on each other’s work.
Microsoft has always been business oriented, but recent months have seen increased emphasis on its AI, Internet of Things and data analytics product offerings, as it fleshes out Azure. It is also remodelling itself as a ‘developer-first’ company, as evidenced by its purchase of Github, in June 2018.
The flexibility, modularity, and openness of ROS make it a good bet for Microsoft, as do its large user-bases in the US and Europe.
The surging popularity of edge computing, which Microsoft’s support of ROS plays into, is also an important yardstick against which to measure the company’s strategy.
Enterprise computing is no longer quite so cloud-centric, and Microsoft wants to get as close as possible to the metal. Robotics and edge computing will be intrinsically linked in the future of Industry 4.0.