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Microsoft Seeks to Unleash the Robots

Looking to do what it did for the personal-computer industry through the creation of a standard operating system, Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) yesterday unveiled Microsoft Robotics Studio -- a Windows-based software platform designed to make it easy for people to program their own robots.

Where will the robots come from, you ask? To begin, they will include products such as iRobot's (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) Roomba vacuum cleaner, Lego's "tribot," and the robotic products of 30 other companies that are already supporting Microsoft's software.

The software platform has three unique features. First, it contains a run-time architecture that allows the software to communicate with everything from simple educational robots and industrial robots to your home computer.

Second, it is reported to contain a set of tools, including visual drag-and-drop icons, that make it easy even for nonprogrammers to use.

And third, it has a three-dimensional simulation tool that allows people to test their robotic applications in a virtual environment before unleashing them on the real world. The system is reportedly so sophisticated that it can simulate forces such as mass, gravity, and friction.

All of this is significant to both Microsoft and the emerging robotics industry. Mr. Softy can use the software to stake out a critical position on the ground floor of a growing industry. According to the Japanese Robot Association (an admittedly biased organization), the personal-robot industry could be worth more than $50 billion by 2025.

And for the robotics industry, the software will provide children, students, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs a chance to learn about, experiment, and become familiar with robots. In short, it could bootstrap the industry by creating an army of knowledgeable workers and customers.

Now, whether future generations will need to even be in the work force if they can learn how to program their own robots to do things -- like work -- is another question. But in the meantime, this latest news is promising both for Microsoft and the robotics industry.

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Microsoft isMotley Fool Inside Valuerecommendation.

Jack Uldrichwants to program his Roomba to walk his dog so he won't have to go outside when it's below zero. Jack lives in Minnesota and owns stock in iRobot. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.

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