The story of Roomba, the robot that changed the way we clean

You probably have a Roomba in your home. Or you know someone who has one. Or have you considered buying one Roomba or other brand. Anyway, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Cleaning robots, robot vacuum cleaners or whatever name you want to give them because some sweep, some vacuum and some wet the floor and wipe it with a cloth have become such a common household appliance such as the television, the refrigerator or the coffee machine. And it is thanks to her that this segment of the electronics industry generated last year $53.24 billion all over the world is iRobot.

It is now possible to find cleaning robots of Dyson, Xiaomi, Samsung, Bosch Roborock. Many companies are competing to launch their self-driving devices that move around your home by recognizing walls, doors, stairs, and objects. At the same time, they sweep and vacuum dust and dirt with varying degrees of success. They save us time. They keep us company. And your pets play with them. The fact is that iRobot the first to bet on cleaning robots or successfully launch them in the market, caught the eye of the giant Amazon in the summer of 2022. A $1.7 billion purchase that made the rounds in the media and was, in part, inevitable.

Some suspect that Amazon wants to spy on us and find out what our houses look like and what we do there, with scan information provided by Roomba. Others believe that iRobot’s technology will help create better autonomous robots for warehouses Amazon. And who knows, maybe in the future we will receive packages from this company without a human intermediary. And some third parties believe that buying iRobot will help Amazon’s home robot, astro the Astro is more than just an overpriced toy that does very little.

But in this article, we don’t want to predict the future. Rather, we want to return to the past. Just when someone thought it would be a good idea to… to create domestic robots. Like those in science fiction movies and books. HAS national revolution similar to the introduction of the mop or the wringer. Or better, because with a robot vacuum cleaner we have nothing to do. Just make sure he doesn’t fall down the stairs or fight with your cat. The person who came up with this idea is three MIT researchers. Let’s get to know their story.

The early years of iRobot before the Roomba

We said earlier that Amazon acquired, in the summer of 2022, the company iRobot for $1.7 billion. A name that is not as popular as its flagship, Roomba. The brand is so popular Roomba this is what many people call any cleaning robot, even if it comes from competing companies such as Bosch, Roborock and Xiaomi ,Dyson known for its vacuum cleaners, entered this segment of home electronics.

Good. The company known as iRobot was born in the distant 1990s. At that time, no one thought that in the coming years robots would sweep the floor at home. The idea came from three MIT researchers. Or rather, of their Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Their names, Rodney Brooks, Colin Angle and Helen Greiner. Of those three, Colin Angle is currently the company’s president and CEO. And, interestingly, domestic robots were not on their minds at all.

At its beginnings, iRobot was intended to design military and space exploration robots. A profitable sector thanks to lucrative contracts. Ambitious projects, but with greater rewards and less risk than in the civilian commercial realm. And it was done. His first project, launched a year after the company was founded, was called Genghis. It was a robot designed for space exploration. It was shaped like a six-legged insect. Each leg was autonomous, unlike the classic centrally-controlled robot. It can now be visited at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

In 1996, six years after the launch of the operation iRobot launch their second project. A robot called Ariel and is used to detect and remove mines in shallow sea areas. With crab movements, this robot was designed to detect and remove mines in shallow sea areas commissioned by DARPA the US military agency known for supporting projects related to satellites, robotics and the precursor to today’s internet. as a curiosity, Ariel had position, pressure, metal detector and depth sensors. Little to do with what the Roomba will be. But now you have the basics.

Robot explorers on September 11

The relationship with DARPA will continue to take shape PackBot and iRobot PackBot the third major project of this robotics and artificial intelligence company, whose mastermind is Rodney Brooks, considered by many at the time to be one of the leading experts in artificial intelligence and robotics. Announced in 1998, it will play an important role in the search for survivors following the attack on the Al-Qaeda concentration camp. The fall of the twin towers (world trade center) during the September 11, 2001 attack.

An article published in the CNN examines, ten years later, the importance of the role played by the PackBots. The article is titled “How 9/11 inspired a new era of robotics”. The article is titled “How 9/11 inspired a new era of robotics”. He repeatedly mentions iRobot and its desire to make robots autonomous. But even in this article, they did not imagine the “domestic” future of the robotics company. But that was about to change. In 2002, a year after 9/11, robots PackBot are used by US troops. In addition, they are developing a robot so that National Geographic reach the unexplored corners of the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

From exploring the world to Roomba

In 2002, iRobot will launch its first national product. After more than a decade devoted to military robotics and exploration, they decided to embark on the adventure civilian commercial sector. And they’ll do it in style, with their most iconic brand, the robot vacuum. Roomba. In parallel, they will continue to work on contracts and projects with various public and private clients.

However, iRobot quickly understood the potential and announced new domestic robots. After the Roomba from 2002, in 2005 they come out Scooba a floor cleaning robot. And in 2006 they launched dirt dog a cleaning robot for commercial establishments. The list continues in 2007 with Looj a pipe and gutter cleaning robot; Lock a robot for cleaning swimming pools; and finally, Create a programmable mobile robot. Similar to the Roomba but for developers and robotics enthusiasts who wanted to tinker with such devices. During the first decade of the 21st century, iRobot continues to work on projects such as maritime robots, communication robots, etc. She is also launching an educational initiative under the name of SPARK (2009). But all of this is overshadowed by the commercial aspect of home cleaning robots.

In 2012, iRobot will buy the company Evolution Robotics for $74 million. A strategic purchase, as this company specialized in computer vision and autonomous navigation, thus expanding its patent portfolio and its expertise in artificial intelligence and robotics. In addition, it also manufactures cleaning robots. That is why, the following year, it was renamed as iRobot Braava.

What happened to the founders of iRobot?

The rest of the story is already better known. If in 2013 iRobot announced that more than 10 million household robots had been sold worldwide, in 2017 this number doubled to more than 20 million robots. cleaning our homes. Autonomous cleaners that recharge at their charging station. During all those years, iRobot launched different models of its various product lines. Currently, iRobot mainly sells two lines, Roomba, Braava. The first focused on vacuuming and sweeping, and the second on rags to clean the floor with water. Goodbye brooms and mops.

As for the founding members of iRobot I mentioned earlier that its President and CEO, if nothing changes as you read this, is Colin Angle one of the three founders of the company. For its part, Rodney Brooks robotics genius, changed gears in 2008, when he and Ann Whittaker founded another robotics company called Rethinking robotics. Although originally called Heartland Robotics. In 2018, it was acquired by the German group HAHN, changing its name a year later, as well as its headquarters from the United States to Germany. And since there are no two without three, Rodney Brooks created a third company in 2019, called RobustAI in collaboration with Gary Marcus, cognitive science expert. The goal, to create smarter robots.

The third founder of iRobot Helen Greiner, Helen Greiner, is currently CEO of Tertill Corporation a company that focuses on “organic food”. Among its employees is the robotics expert Joe Jones who also worked on iRoomba. And to whom is attributed the invention of the Roomba. And in 2008, like Brooks, he decided to leave the company he co-founded to do the same for CyPhy’s work a startup dedicated to domestic, professional and military drones, of which he was the CEO. In 2018, he advised the US military on robotics and artificial intelligence. And in 2020, he launched his new venture that unites robotics and agriculture.

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The story of Roomba, the robot that changed the way we clean


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