For its part, Evolution Robotics aims to offer a series of specialized robot building blocks consisting of modules that include the necessary hardware and software to get a given job done. Using its approach, the manufacturers wont necessarily have to design their own hardware or software for a given function. Instead, the makers can select an Evolution Robotics module and build it into a bot, promising to speed their time to market and reduce engineering efforts. Evolutions first such module, due later this year, will include its Visual Pattern Recognition technology for robot vision."Each of the technologies we have focused on has proven to [have] hard problems to solve," Pirjanian said. Offering the modules "helps OEMs to get access to these technologies." To be sure, selecting a module from Evolution Robotics requires a robot maker to use the company as its supplier, given that there are few robot module makers at the moment and even fewer standards for putting various parts that go into something like a vision module together. But even with the need to lower costs, jump technical hurdles and streamline development, several executives present at RoboBusiness cautioned against rushing headlong into creating standards. "Standards can have a very positive effect in terms of things coming together" in an industry, Trower said. However, "it has to be the right kind of standard. More important is the agreement" between companies on how to design robot components. Where PCs are generally used for entertainment, communicating or interacting with data, robots could be used in a much broader set of circumstances. Bots could be used for everything from entertainment to transporting goods. Not to mention taking on roles in combat and police work. Thus its streamlining the components that go into the bots that appears to need the most work. Evolution Robotics offers one path. Microsoft aims to offer another by surrounding its development platform with third parties to create an application development suite of sorts. "Instead of looking at the robot to solve the problem, lets look at the individual components" that go into that bot, said Lloyd Spencer, CEO of CoroWare, a robotics integrator based in Bellevue, Wash., during a RoboBusiness session. "One of the things that is still evolving and, I think, is badly needed is a common set of APIs." Two robots using similar components might be used for cleaning sewer pipes or disarming roadside bombs. But the motors and other components that go into making them dont necessarily have to be different. Nor do the interfaces that connect them or the software that runs them, Spencer said. Spencer, for one, suggested that applying standard APIs to parts such as electric motors and vision sensors would assist robot makers by making it easier for designers to write the software that allows their bots to navigate and avoid objects. It would also allow robot makers to use more off-the-shelf components. Combining standard interfacessomething Spencer likened to mortarand standard building blocks, which he said are like bricks, with some luck in finding the right opportunities will create recipes for growth, robot makers hope. Ultimately, "Were going to be using a little less mortar and more bricks" in the future, Spencer said. "You get a more solid robot out of that, too." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.
Evolution Robotics, which also offers stand-alone versions of its Visual Pattern Recognition technology, as well as a robot operating system, hopes to garner more business with its modules.