Saturday, December 11, 2004

I Robot

About a decade ago, programming computers involved some pretty deep thinking and a lot of insight into how computers work. The exception was Basic and "girlie" computer scripting languages. Borland and Microsoft changed that with really simple tools for programming Pascal and Basic. So what happened was that millions of mildly educated people suddenly became programmers and the "Information Technology" industry exploded with a dumbed down army building tons of applications.

Which brings us to programming embedded computers. These things live in watches, calculators, remote controls, TVs, cars, lights, thermostats and microwave ovens. These days it is pretty hard to find a consumer product that doesn't have an embedded computer in it. The problem is that programming these things is where programming PCs was a decade ago. If you wanted to build your own device or build a little robot or robotic arm to do something like open the door for you, it took a ton of work and a lot of technical knowledge. So much so that it wasn't even worth it.

Things are going to change rapidly soon, it's getting way easier. When PCs got easy to program, a few million applications were launched and everybody became a programmer. Microsoft just released a microprocessor that uses .Net as it's core and uses standard .Net languages for programming and a relatively cheap development system as well. This type of development means that a million new hardware gadgets can be released by a million tiny companies and individuals. It means that a guy like me can program a bunch of robotics to control when and how my windows and blinds open automatically at home. It means that I can build all kinds of crazy robotics into my cars/bikes etc, and easily too.

I for one am really excited about the possibilities. A few friends and I are planning a lake-wide wireless internet network using WiLan next summer so on top of that, all of my robots will be internet connected. I want a robotic boat with a video camera to check out the lake while I'm in the city. A robotic helicopter would be wicked too.

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