February 10, 2004

iRobot Keynote at ETech

Helen Greiner, president of iRobot gave a keynote session this morning on what her company is doing in the consumer and government/military space.

In the consumer space, iRobot has become well-known for its Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. I wanted to ask a question, raced to the microphone, but didn't get there fast enough, and they only took two questions (one of which wasn't even a question). My question to iRobot:

Vacuuming the floor is interesting - but what about the walls and ceiling? what about curtains? I remember the "robotic blimp" that floated around the MIT Media Lab in the 1980s --- so attach a little vacuum "straw" to it, and turn your home into a virtual aquarium, with the "housefish" as a sort of robotic "algae-eater", going around and sucking the walls, the corners, the molding, the ceilings, the curtains --- getting all that dust. I'd like that more than the Roomba, to tell you the truth.

The other thing I noticed is that iRobot doesn't have a stairs solution. Roomba doesn't do stairs. Again: stairs are more of a pain, to me at least, when it comes to vacuuming. There ought to be a RoombaPlus or something that can handle stairs and vacuum them reliably and thoroughly as well.

Roomba right now is at the Pong level of innovation, or maybe Pac-Man. I want it to get to the Doom level. Roomba works only in 2 dimensions. Where's the Z axis? A house is not just a floor.

I'm going to hold off commenting on the government/military implications/applications of iRobot's technology --- suffice to say, it's scary, and Helen did nothing to indicate her company has any concerns or policies in place regarding the inevitable abuse (arming her robots, spying-on/firing-on/bombing civilians, protesters, etc) that's going to come because of these devices. Posted by brian at February 10, 2004 12:26 PM


That floating blimp thing was a project by eric paulous (http://berkeley.intel-research.net/paulos/) back in his berkeley days. A floating roomba-cleaner sounds pretty funny, but I bet it would be quite a nuisance. The roomba just sorts of wanders around randomly from what I understand (it doesn't know the layout of your house, which is why it can't plug itself back in) so it would probably be inefficient at wall/curtain cleaning since it would be wandering in 3d space instead of 2d.

BTW, here's my comment on the government/military implications/applications of iRobot's technology: http://akuaku.org/archives/001178.shtml

Posted by: Dav at February 13, 2004 01:05 PM

Ah, but the blimp thing could have an anteater-like snout on one end, so that not only could it get dust from the corners in the ceiling, and on curtains and drapes, but it could do the stairs AS WELL!

Think about it --- it could gently float down to stair level, and then "sniff" up the dust from each stair step -- both the horizontal and vertical sides. Heck, it could even float back over to a designated area, say, a trashcan, and dump the dust out when it was full...

Posted by: Brian Dear at February 15, 2004 11:04 PM

brianstorms is Brian Dear's weblog. Non-spam email:

Be sure to take a look at these other fine websites:

Copyright 2002-2003 Birdrock Ventures. brianstorms is a trademark of Birdrock Ventures.