If there is one possibility that the future holds, it is that humans will be able to sit and relax while all the domestic chores, including cooking dinner, doing laundry and even mowing the lawn are done by robot servants. One of the hottest topics of discussion would probably revolve around the question of who one’s first robot was.
Well, for many, the answer to this question would be the Roomba robot. In fact, over 10 million people would rightfully claim that the Roomba was their first robot. Launched in 2002, this mini vacuum cleaning robot is increasingly becoming a popular fixture in millions of homes around the world. Some owners have even gone as far as giving it pet-names and the Roomba mania has even spread into some of the internet’s most viral cat videos.
The Roomba robot is just one of the many innovations from the iRobot company which was founded in 1990 by Colin Angle, Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner. According to Angle, the Roomba is “the world’s first practical home robot”.
Following the success of Roomba, iRobot now intends to roll out even more innovative robots including one known as the AVA which is a telepresence robot that will be used in boardrooms. The company also hopes to venture into the battlefield with robots that are specially designed for defense and the art war.
Colin Angle reckons that Hollywood and the concepts that movies had of robots played a huge role in inspiring him to venture into the field of robotics. He further asserts that at first, He and Dr Brooks had the main objective of making the Hollywood concept real.
In fact, their first ever business model revolved around being able to make a robot, sending it to the moon and subsequently succeeding enough to sell the movie rights. Although that model didn’t quite succeed, Angle appreciates the role it played in the development of two robots; the Spirit Rover and the Opportunity Rover.
One of the reasons that led to the failure of actualizing the Hollywood concept of robots and robotics was the idea that robots are meant to be mechanical human copies.
For example, many people wrongly imagined that a vacuuming robot would look more or less like Rosie, a robot in “The Jetsons’ “who looked like a human and pushed the vacuum cleaner around.
Making the Roomba was a journey that started with strategic partnerships with several companies.
Firstly, there was Hasbro, which specialized in making robotic baby dolls and robot dinosaurs. This partnership was essential in providing vital knowledge on how to make ground-breaking mechanical things while at the same time minimizing the cost of production.
The second partnership was with Johnson Wax who are manufacturers of industrial cleaning machines. This partnership resulted in the building of larger than life robotic cleaning machines.
Finally, the third partnership with the Pentagon, revolved around making robots that would assist in clearing up minefields. The knowledge gained from these partnerships is what led to the formulation of the algorithms needed to enhance the effectiveness and thoroughness of Roomba in vacuuming the house.
Interestingly, one of the bigger complexities that iRobot faced in the process of rolling out the Roomba lay in the naming. Even an internal naming contest in the company did nothing to help the situation. According to Angle, the best name that they could think of was the “Cyber Suck”.
However, Angle appreciates the fact that domestic robotics still has a long way to go. He points out to the fact that they are working on robots that can do other tasks apart from vacuuming and scrubbing the floor; tasks such as doing laundry, serving beverages to people; tasks that will enhance independent living especially among the ageing population.
He also has a vision of creating robots whose mission is to interact with humans; robots that can act as security guards or even robots that can be used to improve medical care. He however points out to the fact that humans may never be able to talk to robots. Regardless of this, one thing is clear; more and more homes will enroll the services of robots in the future.