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iRobot CEO Colin Angle on the shortcomings of humanoid robots (video)

Brian Heater
September 6, 2013
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Nearly everyone who's purchased one the 10 million-plus Roombas sold around the world has inevitably asked the same question: whatever happened to Rosie? For all its charms, iRobot's hockey puck-like floor cleaner will never compare to the Jetsons' sass-talking maid. We're living in an age of robots and we don't even know it. They're everywhere we look, but it's hard to recognize them after countless science fiction books and movies have hammered home the image of electronic mirrors of ourselves. In order to embrace a robotic future, however, many have scrapped the traditional notion of the android.

"Building robot versions of people is very expensive," explains iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle. "The thing that iRobot had to do to become a legitimate business [was] take a great step away from the traditional notion of what a robot should be. Why should it be to vacuum that I need to build an upright person and give them a vacuum? Why not build the vacuum that can guide itself around, that can go under couches? You can make it radically less expensive."

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It's a shift in thinking that has defined most of the company's products, hyper-specific robots designed to do one thing well" vacuuming, mopping, cleaning a pool. And that task directly informs their software and form factor. The strategy has proven a success in the case of the company's flagship Roomba. Angle is quick to point out, given the fact that we're currently in Europe, that the Roomba is now the top selling vacuum in Spain. Not robotic vacuum, just vacuum. An impressive feat for a pucky little 'bot.

So, no Rosie the robot maid in Colin Angle's version of the future. For now, we'll have to leave the sass talk to SIRI.

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