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What's Next For iRobot? 88

An anonymous reader writes "Ten years since the debut of the Roomba vacuum cleaner and military PackBot, robots are mainstream but still not in every home. Meanwhile, a new generation of robotics companies is taking off. Where does that leave iRobot, the godfather of the field? With its military business taking a hit from the U.S. defense budget, the 22-year-old public company is looking to reinvent itself with new kinds of robots, including a telepresence machine for doctors and hospitals and, further down the road, inflatable robots that could be cheaper, safer, and more portable than their metallic predecessors. The question is whether these new machines will be successful enough to keep the company growing — and add to its legacy in robotics."
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What's Next For iRobot?

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  • What is Fairchild Semiconductor's stock price these days?
    • $14.52. What does that have to do with anything?
      • by SomeJoel ( 1061138 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @05:49PM (#41317513)

        $14.52. What does that have to do with anything?

        He was testing your Internet research skills. You win this round.

        • Re:Remind me (Score:4, Informative)

          by vlm ( 69642 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @05:54PM (#41317559)

          Should have asked about Maxim semiconductor stock price for a real "jeopardy style" research project.
          See they bought dallas semiconductor, who sold a whole line of "i-products" back when apple still meant an apple2-gs.
          The iButton was like a 256 byte (byte, not kilo or mega or giga byte, just byte) one wire interface storage device. They had a whole herd of one-wire devices. Basically the one wire was really one wire plus ground and it was kind of like sneaking power for I2C off the data bus. Thats a good research question.

          Also its a pessimistic outlook... onewire went nowhere and its pretty much gone now. Insinuating that irobot is going the way of the ibutton.

          • The one-wire bus is actually three wires. Ground, power+data, and a seperate power wire. The latter is technically optional, but if you want to get a signal to reliably go more than a few meters you're going to need it. I use one-wire temperature sensors to monitor the temperature throughout my house, a relic of an old computerised heating project that never saw completion.
            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by Anonymous Coward

              a relic of an old computerised heating project that never saw completion

              So you had a bunch of Pentium 4 systems laying around? My P4 laptop kept me warm through cold winter nights.

      • Not bad considering Intel is at 23 and change.
  • by Issarlk ( 1429361 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @05:53PM (#41317543)
    ... with the inflatable robots.
    • by voss ( 52565 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:01PM (#41319561)

      In the headlines for October 3rd 2017

      "We all knew they were coming...wait! wait! You know what I mean!" - anon

      "The day an unemployed iron worker can lay in his Barcalounger with a Fosters in one hand and a channel flicker in the other and f--k Claudia Schiffer for $19.95, it's gonna make crack look like Sanka."- Dennis Miller on Virtual Reality - 6/16/95

      Having failed to exterminate humanity tried a different approach. Well played skynet....well played.

  • by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @05:53PM (#41317547)

    They need to design hunter-killer pest control robots next. Why bother fogging your apartment with deadly pesticides when you can let a few (roach/bedbug/beetle/spider)-hunting bots loose for targeted annihilation?

    Yes, I know, "What could possibly go wrong?"

    • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @06:12PM (#41317721) Homepage Journal

      They need to design hunter-killer pest control robots next. Why bother fogging your apartment with deadly pesticides when you can let a few (roach/bedbug/beetle/spider)-hunting bots loose for targeted annihilation?

      Already have one, works great! []

      • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @06:40PM (#41317995)

        I have two. Unfortunately, one of mine likes to catch big palmetto bugs (a gigantic semi-flying roach found in Florida) in her mouth, then runs through her special door into the house, races up the stairs, jumps up onto her daddy's bed, and spits them out to proudly demonstrate her hunting skills and offer her daddy a late night snack, which he inevitably declines...

        • Our cats are indoors only, and they do the same thing. Any living thing in the house smaller than them is dead or imobilized in about 10 seconds after they see it. If only we could teach them not to leave them on the bed, shoes, bathroom floor... Also, I read something that said that cats do not leave dead animals to impress or offer to their masters, but more of a "Learn to hunt bitch, like this...".
        • Hey, be glad your kittah hasn't developed an affinity for catching baby bunnies at 2 a.m. like mine has.

          He doesn't kill then quick, either - no, my sociopathic feline prefers to cripple them, then let them screech themselves to death under the porch outside my bedroom.
      • by olau ( 314197 )

        Is it using lasers? If not, it doesn't count.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @05:57PM (#41317591) Homepage Journal

    Now, if only it could cook....

  • It doesn't work well.
  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @06:08PM (#41317695) Homepage Journal

    I know that there is another company that has long made a Roomba-like lawn mower. It uses buried wires, much like the invisible fence many pet owners use. It would be awesome to have one that eliminates the wires by using GPS and other location technologies to let you map out the area to be mowed.

    • by drfishy ( 634081 )
      ^^ This. I'm actually content with the current state of vacuuming robots - you need to adjust your house a little but they at least CAN work well. Lawn mowing robots on the other hand really need to be taken to the next level. I would love to buy one but there are just too many problems with the current offerings.
    • by GNious ( 953874 )

      A device running around at "random" in your garden, with sharp blades spinning - what could possibly go wrong....

      But yes - They should release one.

  • They infringed on Apple's i* trademark format.
  • How about trying to make robots which don't get tons of hair caught in them requiring attention multiple times per vacuum, or charging circuitry that doesn't break after maximum 2 years?
    • I own a Sharper Image vacuuming robot that would totally rock and beat my two Roombas like an unloved child, if its battery could manage to last for longer than 6-9 minutes. It's not a wimpy sweeper... it's a big, mean, dustbuster on wheels with REAL vacuum that can suck up a wad of cat hair from 2 feet away. I really wish I could come up with some way to retrofit a better power source onto it.

      Yeah, I've considered mounting a pivoting rod to the ceiling fan like a big festoon and powering it directly with

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Push vacuums get hair caught in them also. However, one tends to ignore it because it has enough power to compensate. The brush becomes a hair-ball brush. With Roomba's you have to clean it more often because it's not as powerful.

      A robot probably wouldn't be safe with that much power: the cat's tail or your sock would be long gone before you noticed something was wrong.

      I notice many new push vacs don't even have rotating brushes, just fixed position brushes. I haven't noticed a resulting quality difference,

  • I'd buy a PackBot if it would vaccum my house. Wheels on a robot? How quaint!
  • IMO, the "big deal" in inflatable robots comes from OtherLab... They've built giant (ridable!) inflatable robots and inflatable robot arms with insane power to weight ratios. We did a special on them at Hizook a while back: [] The OtherLab project is also part of the same DARPA program (M3) that spawned the iRobot inflatable arm.
  • iRobot has gained a lot of experience in robots, but they are missing an opportunity to make it big because they do not have focus. They produce such a wide range of products - Military and domestic - none of which has the "Wow factor". I think if they focussed on building something which did a useful job really well, they could become the Apple of robotics. The time is really ripe for it and if they don't fill this gap someone else will.

  • Robotics today is where computers were in the 1960's. Back then computers were built for specific tasks, but were not intended to do stuff they weren't specifically designed for. It took the general purpose computers of the 70's and 80's to start the computer revolution. Same thing is needed in robotics. A general purpose robot platform; modular, upgradable and programmable. I'd love to have a robot for all the boring everyday tasks like cleaning, unloading the dishwasher, make my morning coffee and so on.

  • I love Rhoomba. Best thing I have ever spent money on. I honestly don't understand the complaints. Other than needing a new part after a year or two, it has worked amazingly. It does wonders with cat hair, as well as messing with the cats. My girl always suggests that they make a roomba that will scale and clean walls and ceilings.
  • ...their latest model, the "Romney," gets elected!

  • Considering that we have had industrial robots that can do quite advanced work
    for far longer than I've been alive I find it quite depressing that our consumer
    products remain so simplistic.

    None of these robots are at all advanced with nearly no adjustable moving
    parts nor any attempt at doing anything beyond simple and purely reactive A.I.
    Shouldn't we by now have enough capabilities to create a robot that
    is more than just a very crude little toy car that moves randomly?

    I talking about something t
  • and it was lovely to come home each day to a pristine floor with no kruft or dog hair on it.Then one day my dog shat on the floor while the roomba was "cleaning". You can picture what the result was.
  • in order to vote with more influence...oh wait...Diebold already sells those.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller