This weekend, Microsoft attended Maker Faire in New York and UbiComp in Copenhagen to demonstrate a really cool technology that has been developed and used by Microsoft Research in Cambridge England. It is a rapid prototyping system built on the .NET Micro Framework. There are three additional components (beyond NETMF) to make this a platform in which you can bring an idea to implementation in literally minutes. They have created a main board built around the GHI EMX module with a set of 16 connectors on the back. They have also built a broad array of modules that can simply plug into the main board without any specific wiring or even knowledge of the underlying protocol. And finally they have built a set of libraries to make the integration of these modules into an application extremely simple. It is called .NET Gadgeteer.
All that is required is to select the modules that you want to use and to plug them into the main board.
To get ready for the faire, we asked a number of volunteers in Microsoft (some without any hardware experience) to build some demos for us. These demos included a line following robot, a ‘Simon’ game, an MP3 player, and an environmental monitoring devices. To give you an idea of what these folks were able to construct with this technology, one group created a monitoring system that consisted of a central controller with a camera on a servo that could sweep and area or by position to a particular spot and remote environmental sensor. The controller communicates with the sensor over an 802.15.4 radio and the controller communicates of Ethernet (wired or wireless) to a web service with a Silverlight interface that runs on either a PC or a Windows Mobile 7 phone. From that Silverlight application, you can see the images captured by the controller, aim the camera on the remote controller, and see the input from the sensors. Clearly you can build some rich applications with this technology.
This technology is currently in development and use within MSR research but we did talk to several parties interested in investigating bringing the concept to a commercial product. We’ll keep you posted as this progresses.