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Today was another wonderful day for me because I went to a really fun, informative and worthwhile lecture. It was presented by the cofounder and chairman of iRobot Corporation, Helen Greiner. — IRBT — She, and her team have created lots of robots with lots of different functionalities over the last fifteen years. The Roomba is commonly available for helping you with your housework, and there are others which are deployed in Iraq to do things which are too dangerous for soldiers to do, like find and defuse bombs.

Helen Greiner while being introduced by by Robert J. Full, CiBER Director at the University of California, Berkeley, Bechtel Engineering Center on May 5, 2008.


This is a little home companion which keeps you connected to your friends with a video camera and mic hookup to a wireless network so you can cruise with your friends remotely.

iRobot Roomba

The iRobot Roomba comes out at night or whenever you program it to and cleans up your dirt and then returns to its hidden charging station, out of sight and supposedly out of mind.

irobot crawler

This little fellow can go lots of places you can’t go, and wouldn’t want to go and with the front traction tracks it can climb stairs, and over stuff. This one is mounted with what appears to be a stereo camera, but the US Army has put a lot of more interesting stuff on their models.

Helen Greiner talked about these things, showed us several movies of them in action, and lots more. This is all such cool stuff, and I dreamed of doing that kind of thing as a kid, but somehow got distracted by softball, golf and the Lone Ranger. I had a little windup caterpillar tractor that could crawl slowly along for a little while at age 7, and about age 9 I had a real Caterpillar tractor to drive about for my grandfather because all of my uncles were off to WW II.

Caterpillar_tractor He put blocks on the pedals, and a box behind my back so I could reach the pedals, and steering bars, while he manned the equipment at the back. That was sort of fun for a while, but soon became very boring for a kid. I went on to flying airplanes, and then jets for the USAF, but now this looks a lot more interesting. I need to develop a relationship with these people to help do the remote control setup on my power generating kites.

After the lecture I left, being hesitant to go to the reception, but came back to it, and talked to Helen, and the others for a while. She is a fascinating person, and reminds me of Michael Marks of Flextronics whom I talked to last week, because of her enthusiasm for what she is doing, which is rather similar to what he is doing — making really neat stuff that really works wonders. She hasn’t made the inordinate amounts of money that Marks has, but she said she likes to talk about her company as worth a quarter billion dollars because she said, she likes the sound of billion dollars attached to what she has created. I suspect she would like to own a quarter of Tesla Motors and be its CEO like Michael, and do some really neat things with it.


In a few years I think she, and her company may make a lot more money than a mere 65 billion dollars, because when they hit the right product this company will explode with profits. I said to her that what iRobot was doing was fabulous, but that it was so limited relative to what she might develop, and spend her time working on. I spend a minute or two a day on cleaning up the floor, and no time at all looking for unexploded bombs, and asked her what she was doing that would impact my life, as an ordinary person, in terms of time and usefulness. We didn’t get very far with that although I think she thought it was a valid question. The reception ended, and I left still thinking about that, and while outside walking away she, and Bob Full were also walking away. I re-approached them, and said I thought I had an answer to my question — that I spent eight hours a day sleeping and I was wondering if a robot could help me sleep better — that would occupy one third of my time. She enthused over that idea for a bit about things being attached to a sleeping person’s head which helped them wake up at the best possible time for them to get rested properly. That’s great I said, but I was thinking more in a mechanical sense, because that is what her robots were doing. I said I would like a robot to lift the covers a bit when it perceived that I was about to roll over so I wouldn’t get tangled up in them, and have to wake up a bit to straighten them out. Or, that a robot would realize I had been seeping in some position for a certain period of time and needed to get into some other position. I want a robot to pamper me, to cater to my every whim, even my unconscious whims and I suspect that is what everyone else wants too. I had some other ideas along that line but felt that I was imposing on their group which appeared to be heading out to dinner. So I departed and we all happily went our separate ways.