May 9 2009
by Todd Hixon

Rod Brooks interview: TLH notes from the Nantucket conference

MIT professor, star of movie Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

iRobot started without a plan, just some JPL contracts, ran that way for 8 years

Did not raise money until we saw external market opportunities

  • At one point had six product divisions
  • Now two divisions:  gov and consumer
  • If we had it to do again, we would work harder to figure out the market in advance, and do less trial and error
  • Biggest gov product is the “pack bot” — 50 lb unit
    • 2,000 shippped
    • Used by troops to handle IEDs
    • 19 year old kids with little training
    • very rugged
  • Building a 30 lb pack bot to be issued to each squad in 15-50 brigades
  • Will make gov the dominant part of the co

Sold Roomba using late night TV, looked for fast results (ads pay for themselves)

  • 4m sold

Got the key technological insight from insects:  have 100k neurons, navigate reactively, cover ground fast, don’t try to build a detailed model of the world [advice we should all take to heart]

HeartLand robotics

  • “low cost robots to empower American workers”
  • few industrial robots today, most of them based on Iron Hand design, good at following a complex trajectory repeatedly and precisely, use-cases designed around this ability, integration cost = 10x capital cost => mostly used in cars
  • bringing the iRobot design philosophy to industrial robots

See Robotics as a way to both keep manufacturing in US and address the labor shortage that will occur as the boomers retire

  • Unions realize that American workers need to keep getting more productive to keep jobs — to keep entire factories from migrating overseas

Korea putting a lot of investment into robotics:  focusing on functional robots like Roomba

  • Japanese are “lost” with their humanoid robots, which are frequently tele-operated
  • US has leadership in robots for unstructured environments, driven by the military, aided by consumer adoption

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