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Kinect renders sight, hearing to robots

Posted: 15 Jul 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Robotics Developer Studio  simulator  Kinect 

Microsoft hopes to gain renewed interest in its free Robotics Developer Studio and 3D simulator with the launch of added services that will allow users to plug the Kinect hands-free hardware—intended for gesture control of its Xbox gaming console—directly into any robot.

In essence, the Kinect will add eyes and ears to any robot, which can be controlled with sophisticated gesture recognition running on an embedded Windows based computer.

Microsoft's Robotics Developer Studio users will not just have access raw data either, but will also be able to access all of Kinect's sophisticated pattern recognition algorithms that enable the Xbox to be controlled with gestures. In other words, now roboticists using the Robotics Developer Studio will be able to control their robotics with gestures.

"Kinect's SDK [software development kit] can now be used with our free Robotics Developer Studio to create natural user interfaces for robots with full access to Kinect smart routines like skeletal recognition," said Stathis Papaefstathiou, general manager, Microsoft Robotics. "In addition, we know from our user base that Kinect can also be useful for autonomous navigation scenarios."

This fall, Papaefstathiou promises that his software development group will add new routines to directly support autonomous navigation tasks. Developers will also have access to the routines controlling the four-microphone array in the Kinect, including its sophisticated noise cancellation and beam steering operations.

While users are prohibited from developing commercial products with the Kinect SDK, non-profits will be able to add the navigation algorithms that enable robots to use Kinect to follow paths, plan routes and generally re-enact the types of behaviours that search-and-rescue robots can now only perform by remote control.

Last year Microsoft acquired the fabless chip maker, Canesta Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) which makes a chip-level pattern recognition engine. Canesta's engine is said to outperform the PrimeSensor which Microsoft is currently licensing from PrimeSense Ltd. (Tel-Aviv, Israel) for its Kinect.

When Microsoft commercializes the Canesta-invented chip-level work-alike of the PrimeSensor, it will be able to downsize the foot-long Kinect to about a square centimetre, enabling tiny robots and other mobile devices, such as the Windows Phone, to perform sophisticated gesture recognition for natural user interfaces, autonomous navigation and many other tasks.

R2D2, here we come!

 Kinect to Robot

Melonee Wise has already put together a tutorial on how to connect a Kinect to an iRobot at ROS.org, a nonprofit community site for hosting open-source robotics software.

- R. Colin Johnson
  EE Times





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