Microsoft's latest robotics release

More leeway for licensees with 2008 version of the Windows-based platform for programming robots.

Microsoft released the latest version of its robot-building platform for professionals and hobbyists of the Lego Mindstorms AlphaRex level.

Microsoft released the latest revision of its robotics development software platform at the RoboDevelopment Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., on Monday.

Robotics Developer Studio 2008 is intended to satisfy the gamut of roboticists from hobbyists looking to program things like the iRobot Create to professionals developing commercial robots for sale.

As such, there are three versions of the software: Express, Standard, and Academic.

The Standard version for professionals will be available for $499.95, with the Express hobbyist version offered as a free download. (Pricing for an Academic license was not disclosed.)

This latest version of the software platform offers increased runtime performance, including faster load times and increased throughput.

The platform's Visual Programming Language tool, Microsoft's drag-and-drop authoring tool, has been updated for greater ease of use when working with distributed applications, according to Microsoft.

Simulations can now be recorded and played back using the Visual Simulation Environment tool to see what things might go wrong before testing applications out on hardware.

The new version also includes support for Visual Studio 2005 and 2008.

Another difference is in the licensing restriction. Pros and academics who buy the license for the 2008 version will be allowed to distribute an unlimited number of copies of the Concurrency and Coordination Runtime and Decentralized Software Services runtime components, whereas the previous version restricted licensees to 200 copies.

Redmond has been increasing efforts in robotics, announcing earlier this year that it will lead several initiatives to promote the robotics industry as a whole, as well as double its investment in its Robotics Group.

The platform has been supported by a long list of robotics hardware manufacturers and component suppliers, including favorites like iRobot and Lego.

According to Microsoft's own statistics, over 250,000 copies of its Windows-based development platform have been downloaded since its first version release.