ZMP of Japan began selling a two-legged walking robot Thursday that runs on Microsoft's new robotics software — a product the companies said will make it easier to transfer technology from one robot to another.
U.S. software maker Microsoft Corp. is a relative latecomer to robotics. Microsoft Robotics Studio, a package of software especially made to program movements and other applications for robots, went on sale in December 2006, and ZMP's device is the first biped to run on it.
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On Thursday, a demonstrator using a Microsoft Xbox 360 remote got the 14-inch-tall, 5.5-pound, $5,345 "e-nuvo WALK" to take a few steps and kick a small plastic ball.
Expected to ship in January, the robot, which has six motors in each leg and a boxlike torso but no head, is available online and only in Japan, though it will function overseas.
Japan has a thriving robot culture, partly because of a history of animation and TV shows that depict robots as friendly. The government is also pushing robotics as a way to put the nation ahead of the world. Robots are used in the schools here, and robot competitions are popular.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said robotics is the next hot field in technology. And Tandy Trower, a who oversees robotics at Microsoft, foresees a day when robots will operate in every home, much as Gates in the 1970s envisioned a PC proving valuable in every home.
"This really isn't about Microsoft trying to create any kind of an exclusive solution," Trower said in an interview. "We think that this is the natural evolution of the PC technology, that PCs will start to get up from our desk and move around and interact with us in a richer way."
Microsoft Robotics Studio is free for noncommercial users, and there have already been some 150,000 downloads, the company said.
In addition to robots for research and education, ZMP makes consumer products such as the Nuvo humanoid and the Miuro music-playing, rolling robot.