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Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 10 News List

French firm offers robotic software everyone can use

FREE DOWNLOADS The year-old Gostail says it has developed software that can work on all operating systems and with robots from Lego

AFP , PARIS

Imagine having someone to serve you a glass of water whenever you ask, or even dance if you put on your favorite music. Now imagine that certain someone is a something -- a robot, in fact.

A French startup named Gostai is doing just that.

The year-old company says it has developed a simple, easy-to-use robot software that can work with all operating systems.

And just in time, company officials say, since they expect the global market for domestic robots to begin booming in the coming years.

EMULATING MICROSOFT

"We want to do the same thing Microsoft did with its Windows software for personal computing," said Jean-Christophe Baillie, founder of Gostai.

While the idea of having robots handle mundane tasks may seem the stuff of science fiction to many people, certain countries are already taking the technology very seriously.

That's the case in Japan, where the aging of the population has become a concern. South Korea has announced its intention to have robots in households in 2010.

As a way of creating buzz, Gostai has offered free, downloadable versions of its software, called Urbi, that allows robots from Danish toy giant Lego to be programmed.

It has also sold the software to 25 universities worldwide for use in robotics research.

"At specialized trade shows, you have 12-year-old kids who, after 10 minutes, tell us, `Get out the way,' and start programming," Baillie said.

He recently demonstrated the software with a Sony robot dog, which he said had been programmed over the course of a weekend. The dog moved to the rhythm of music from French group Daft Punk.

By way of explaining the technology's simplicity, Baillie said the code to program the robot's head to follow a bouncing ball is only three lines long.

COMPETITOR

It all sounds intriguing, but there's a big problem standing in Gostai's way: Microsoft.

Gostai considers Microsoft its main competitor in the robot software business. But the firm, which currently has eight employees, says it has a strategy.

It has worked to make the software as simple as possible, which it says gives it an advantange over the Microsoft version. Gostai also says its product's versatility gives it a boost, since Microsoft's software is intended to be used with Windows.

The next challenge for the company is to find financing.

Baillie, 32, says investors always ask about competition from Microsoft.

"We have to grow very quickly because we have large ambitions: to have Urbi in all robots," he said. "When a platform emerges, people are going to begin developing applications and the phenomenon will take care of itself."

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