January 7, 2007 9:01 PM PST

Build your own bot, courtesy of iRobot

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At the Consumer Electronics Show, iRobot will publicly release its latest product, the iRobot Create, a programmable robot for entertainment and education. The base of the Create is similar to the Scooba, the company's floor-mopping robot, and the carpet-vacuuming Roomba. It comes with wheels, motors for movement, and sensors that prevent it from tumbling downstairs or getting mired in corners.

The brushes and fluid tanks, however, have been removed. Instead, the Create comes with a series of connectors that let users attach reticulating arms, cameras and other devices. The idea is that people will devise their own tasks and write their own programs. Some add-ons can be purchased, but the company also expects that people will craft their own peripherals.

"This isn't a toy or a plug-and-chug thing," iRobot co-founder Helen Grenier said in an interview. "It is a programmable robot for students and robot enthusiasts."

Engineers at the company and students at various universities have been tinkering with the device for a while. At U.C. Davis, students used it to make a robot that picks up socks. Another Create robot navigates around the house with the use of the "virtual walls" that are sold with the company's robots. Someone else figured out how to program the robot to open a refrigerator and grab beverages.

iRobot Create

An iteration called "Banjo" takes advantage of the chirpy, musical notes the robot emits. By holding the robot in a particular way, it will play songs. In India, iRobot engineers placed sand containers on the robot and programmed it so that it could create sand mandalas, usually prepared by monks.

Another group, meanwhile, mounted one of those plastic hamster balls on top of Create. When the hamster (or rat, as shown in the picture) moves inside the ball, the ball's rotation sends navigational commands to the robot. Thus, the rodent is driving it.

"I think it was particularly creative in an ironic way," Grenier said.

The Create costs $129.99. Most consumers will also likely pair that with a command module, a board that contains an 8-bit microprocessor. That costs an additional $59.99, said iRobot product manager John Billington.

Public acceptance, increasing technological sophistication and declining prices have allowed a personal robot market to emerge in the past few years. More than 2 million Roombas have already shipped. Competitor Evolution Robotics, meanwhile, will enter the market with a vacuum it says has a more sophisticated navigation system than is available on the market today.

Others are promoting robot toys. Ugobe plans to bring out Pleo, a toy robotic dinosaur with its own moods, in the second quarter.

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iRobot Corp., robot, iRobot Roomba, bot

8 comments

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If only...
...more companies will follow iRobot's example. Instead of suing the people who mod/hack your products, cater to them!
Posted by beautifulheroes (8 comments )
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really. . .
So, and OS vendor should cater to people who hack their OS? Or a secure music vendor should do the same? There are situations where it makes business sense to to this. . .and plenty where it does not.
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
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It's not R2D2, it's more like a remote control.
It's not a robot in the classic sense. It's simply a programmable device.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
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not sure what you mean
R2D2 was a programmable device as well. What do you mean by robot in a classic sense? Robots have never been thought of as devices that were "born" that way. .
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
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Robots
I don't see Robots taking off like computers did when they were early in their design, like the first hobby computers that Apple and Microsoft catered to. This is a totally different thing and no one should think that it will come out the same.

I don't see my self with 3-4 different Robots in my home like with 3-4 different computers 20 years from now.

It's a nice feature to have, and to have in general, but I wouldn't bet the planet on this, the field of robotics is known to only a few people who take interests in automation and you need to know ELECTRONICS well and computer hardware.

Most people don't know the different between a Volts and Amp. This is not going to be a billion dollar cash cow, I don't forsee it in my head.

Maybe 300 years from now, if we survive our own foolish behavior and actions up to this point, as humans are too stupid at this point in time.

Knowing how to use basics in computer software, to read email and www, is different then knowing how to know the basics in Robotics.

Also, I very much doubt that the Robotics industry will allow Microsoft a wide open door to years of research and their hardware and advanced robotics. I would never allow Microsoft, with their history to gain access to the real robots that matter, hell no.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
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Classic, current, future
R2D2 was an actor in a trashcan. A piece of fiction- a fabrication. If a robot is not a programmable device, then perhaps you could enlighten us as to exactly WHAT a robot is. And what a robot is in the "classic" sense. Would that be Robby the Robot? Gort? Daleks? K9? B9? Stepford wives? Commander Data? The Terminator? The Cylons? With the exception of K9 (a remote control device), you realize that these are all actors, don't you? Spend less time at Blockbusters and more time researching your topic.

iRobot may not have an ultra-elegant device, but they are moving product. They have developed and marketed a product and are

collecting revenue for their efforts. This is the 3rd household device (OK, it's a development platform based on the second household device) iRobot has placed on the market, and they did it to allow the tinkers to tinker. Funny how well that works with technology.

Consider the Ford Model-T. It was not elegant, it was very plain, simple, straightforward and came in any color you liked so long as you liked black. And it was cheap. Henry Ford's idea was to make the Model-T very affordable and sell as many as possible. It took another 24 years to get a V-8, and another 33 years after that to get your Mustang, and it, too was a crackerbox.The Mustang has been in continuous production since the introduction, and guess what? They're built by ROBOTS!

So, here we have the iRobot offerings- simple, straightforward and affordable. And on the market.

As for the parallel between "hobby computers" and household robots, one should look carefully at this and plan on the growth. When PCs first became available for household use, many people would ask, "What do you want one of those in your house for? What are you going to do with it?" Well, we sure figured out what to do with it- enough to drive a multi-billion dollar global industry. People are asking the same thing about household robots. With America's love of technology and electronic gadgetry, my money is on robotics.

Sure, there are problems to be resolved, and they will be resolved. I hate to see Microsoft get into it because they will gunk it up, but if household robots were loser products, do you think Bill Gates would sink money into it? His plan is market domination, and he will try to dominate robotic software as well. If you don't see it as a billion dollar cash cow, then perhaps you should invest in something more reasonable such as the phonograph.

As for development of a robotic platform, one needs to know electronics, yes, but also mechanical engineering, programming, and how to think- a critical and often neglected skill. On the other hand, iRobot is in business on the consumer side to make a profit. They will produce units that the average Joe can operate WITHOUT knowing how to build a robot. Did you build your own iPod? Of course you didn't- you bought it because it met your desires for a portable music player. How about your car? Did you build that? Nope. You bought the entire product, didn't you? You may have built your own computer, but did you design the processor? Nope; you bought it ready to run. Same for the motherboard. Did you really need to know hardware programming? Nope, you downloaded those drivers.

So, even if you did "build" your own computer, you merely took complex, pre-built components and assembled them. You couldn't do that in 1981- a mere 25 years ago. So, iRobot has developed a platform to make it easy for one to plug in other complex componets to perform additional or differing tasks.

What really needs to happen with household robots:
1) Vision. We live in a visual world. Our service machines need to be able to see
1a) Visual interpretation. "Go get the yellow soccer ball" is a simple command for a child- they will retrieve it from a field including yellow tennis balls, white soccer balls, softballs and bowling balls. Of couse, we actually spend years training them how to make these distinctions, but most of them learn.
2) better locomotion. We live in a bipedal world. We use stairs and can alter our stride to account for terrain. Who is to say that a tripdeal or quadripedal robot can't function as well in the same world?
3) Better power sources. Our current battery technology is limiting. In addition, having to plug into the grid to recharge is limiting, and doesn't really save anything- the power plant merely pollutes instead of the robot.
4) We need to figure out what we want it to do. It seems that we all want "Rosie" the robot (Jetsons) that will do the vacuuming all

day. Of course, once the vacuuming is complete, we will want Rosie to bring us a beer. And THEN we will want a Stepford wife.

Generally, we need to stop trying to make a robot in our own image. iRobot's hockey-puck design conforms well to its task. Asimo is a little scary.
Posted by fhkatt (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Apple will sue them
Apple has the exclusive rights to the letter "i".
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
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Haha, that'd be funny if they did...
Posted by steventrouble (1 comment )
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