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The call for robotics standards is on

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RoboBiz The robotics industry's penchant for bespoke gadgets has so far led to a slow moving field where every company and hobbyist has to spend huge amounts of time and money on new designs. A growing number of people have started to point to a lack of hardware and software standards as one of the main reasons robotics has stalled and failed to live up to its potential. And they want to change this.

At a very fundamental level, the creation of robotics standards proves a daunting task and one that some argue should not even be pursued. To this day, most robotics companies do custom work where a client asks for a specific device to handle a narrow task. To meet the customer's needs, companies must build one-of-a-kind components and wrap them in one-of-a-kind software.

Bruce Boyes, however, thinks that certain parts of the robotics mission can be centered around standards. He's pushing for the development of reusable hardware components and common software modules that can be shared.

"We need robots that are compelling – more compelling than what they typically are today," Boyes said, during a speech here at the Robo Business conference. "We want ways to develop applications more efficiently. We want to develop a lot of robots instead of struggling to do just one with crude, low-level tools."

Boyes is pushing the work being done by the Object Management Group's Robotics Standards Process.

This standards body is looking into creating a common set of work around middleware, real-time applications, hardware abstraction, human interfaces and tools to let robotic devices communicate with common IT systems.

"How many of you want to write your own TCP/IP stack," Boyes asked the crowd.

Boyes, who founded embedded Java player Systronix, wants to bring some of the lessons learned in the open source software world to robotics. He'd like to see a robotics version of Eclipse where programmers build a strong development core and then let others create add-ons for it.

He threatened that the US could fall behind Asia on the standards front if it's not careful.

"Most of the people involved in robotics standards are from Asia," he said. "Japan and Korea, in particular, have huge multi-billion dollar government sponsored robotics industries."

Microsoft this week too picked up on the standards push with its release of Robotics Studio - an SDK for software developers working in the robotics field. Redmond hopes to have its package become a standard that a wide range of companies can use to make robotics software components.

Of course, the complex nature of robotics and the lack of a clear direction will make the standards push a tough one.

"If we want to develop a standard, we need to know what the standard is for," said Paolo Pirjanian, the CTO of Evolution Robotics. "If we don't know what the end products are, it will be really hard to come up with standards."

As you can tell, we're at the very beginnings of the robotics standards discussion.

You can find more information on the OMG's robotics work here

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