Tech Standards Could Be Robotics Road Map to Success

Standards, which have propelled the PC industry, may also help move robotics along, experts say.

PITTSBURGH—Robotics industry executives, in an effort to grow their nascent market, are hoping to borrow some experience from the PC business.

Several executives, speaking to attendees here at the RoboBusiness Conference & Expo on June 20, said the market for mobile robots—bots that move on their own and can interact with their surroundings—is eyeing steady growth over the next five to 10 years from new applications in areas ranging from consumer devices to military gear. They hope to see it follow a pattern similar to that of the PC industry, which took off during the 1990s.

But they said raising robots to the same levels of success will require more than simply uncovering untapped demand for their services. Robotics would also benefit from working more closely together to create technology standards, such as common software programming interfaces for mechanical subsystems. Creating parts that adhere to standards, much like the PC industrys, would help simplify robots design and production processes—but not necessarily cut down on their functionality—while helping to lower their prices.

"It would be nice if we could reuse existing work," said Paolo Pirjanian, president of Evolution Robotics, of Pasadena, Calif., during a RoboBusiness keynote. "To be able to do that, we need to make some sort of standard."

Pirjanian cautioned against one-size-fits-all standards, likening them to PC makers simply developing one standard for all of the various types of computing.


But he said robotics executives could stand to emulate some parts of the PC playbook, including using standard programming interfaces for software and readily available piece parts.

Seeing the potential, several companies are beginning to develop components such as subsystems, while others are working on software development tools.

Some PC industry players are even seeking to extend a helping hand in developing a more standards-based robotics industry.

Microsoft, for one, introduced its Robotics Studio robotic software development suite at RoboBusiness. Meanwhile, a host of bots use either its Windows XP Embedded or an embedded version of the Linux operating system. Many also use x86 processors and other PC components in their electronic brains.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts new robotic software development suite.

"Robots are showing up more in everybodys lives," said Tandy Trower, general manager of Microsofts Robotics project in Redmond, Wash. "What were doing is trying to put in place, through this Robotics Studio, a set of development tools that will make it possible for people to build [robotics] applications to help further this [markets] potential."

Still other companies are working on standard hardware components for robots.

Some, such as Valde Systems, of Brookline, N.H., are focusing on individual robot subsystems. Valde Systems offers a line of stereo vision systems designed to offload image processing from a robots main processor, CEO Matthew Linder said.

Next Page: Robot building blocks.