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Your robot butler is still a decade away, iRobot CEO says

Your robot butler is still a decade away, iRobot CEO says


Colin Angle argues robots are ready to autonomously roam hospitals, but not your home

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irobot CEO collin angle
irobot CEO collin angle

I got a chance to speak with iRobot CEO Colin Angle at CES this week, and he gave me a nice refresher on the state of the industry — an industry that iRobot continues to lead in both the consumer and military realms.

After two years of demonstrating its AVA robotics platform, the first commercial product is now ready to ship: the RP-VITA, which uses the AVA tech as a mobility base, and has InTouch Health’s smarts up top for health diagnostics and remote presence. After a successful trial deployment, the robot is going to start shipping to hospitals next month.

The whole point of iRobot is to be the pragmatic, boring, successful robot company

It was fun to watch the RP-VITA navigate the booth. It maps its own path to a destination set by the operator, and it’s extremely sensitive to its surroundings and surprise humanoid obstacles — of which there’s an endless supply on the show floor. It was odd for me to see a robot in such a challenging environment continue to operate, and not require a reset or any sort of intervention. It might sound like a simple achievement, but it’s the achievement for real world robot deployment.

Of course, that’s the whole point of iRobot, which continues to be the pragmatic, boring, successful robot company. In our talk, Colin Angle explained that approach, along with his ideas on the future of personal robotics.

"We’re not close, he says. "We need to pick applications that have real concrete value to customers, deliver or exceed their expectations, and move on."

Like most people in the industry, Colin says personal robot butlers are still a decade away, but there are some positive developments that show a real trend toward a robo-butler reality. The AVA platform itself has surmounted many of the technical challenges, and iRobot seems well positioned to usher in the next decade of boring, useful robots, while the applications and appendages are cultivated for a "true" home robot companion.