At Maker Faire UK I wanted to have an exhibit anyone could interact with. So I took along my robots and modified one of the Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio (MRDS) Visual Programming Language (VPL) examples to allow both speech and Xbox controller control of them. Note to product teams: shorter product names would be appreciated :-)
All my mobile robots use a differential drive system, that is two wheels independently driven by their own motor. These drive systems allow the robots to spin on the spot or turn progressively in an arc as well as go forwards and backwards just be setting each motors power settings. So both motors going in the same direction at the same speed the robot moves forwards or backwards. One motor going slower than the other causes the robot to turn progressively in one direction. One motor going forward and one going back at the same rates causes the robot to spin.
Because of the way MRDS abstracts common actuators and sensors with generic programming interfaces it means that despite each of my mobile robots having a different differential drive system they can still all be controlled by the same program. All I have to do is configure the program with a manifest file to point it at the right implementation of the differential drive for each robot. I don’t have to change the code of the program at all :-)
Using VPL makes programming robots pretty easy. Your just joining up advanced functions like speech recognition and text to speech, sonar, drive systems etc by defining what output goes into what input. Knowing the available inputs and outputs of each function is the hardest part :-)
There are many things I like about MRDS:
- A hobbyist version is free
- The dev tool you need for the hobbyist version is free
- You get a physics based graphical simulator – so you don’t actually need a real robot to get started
- There are several simulated robot platforms to choose from include: Lego NXT, iRobot Create, Coroware Explorer, Mobile Robots Pioneer 3DX.
- You don’t have to be a programmer to get going (although in doing real stuff it does help)
The big news flash is that since 26th March Microsoft’s DREAMSPARK means that even High Schools can get the full MRDS Academic version for free!!! Along with all the other ‘developer’ stuff they might want.
Watch my short video on the speech and xbox controller control program I took to Maker Faire – then have a go yourself!