Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I have seen the future. His name is Gary.

I'm a reasonably technology forward kinda guy. I am sporting an iphone 4 and toting a shiny macbook pro and I'm blogging irregularly. I can be found tweeting and posting on fb sometimes. So I'm not exactly living like the Amish. I also see and advise lots of early stage technology companies in the social and mobile spaces - I see a lot of innovation and promise in these areas.

But the most impactful recent innovation in my life and my family's life came from Costco. His name is Gary. He is a vacuum cleaner.

One of Gary's brethern - hard at work

Not just any vacuum cleaner - he is a shiny iRobot Roomba that wakes up every morning at 10am, sounds a nice little chime, undocks from his charger and cheerfully spends the next hour or so cleaning our hardwood floors. We are blessed to have a wonderful yellow Lab but cursed that our dog sheds light colored hair like crazy all over our dark brown floors (the picture above is a generic Roomba one).

Why is Gary an innovation which is so impactful on our family?
  •  Our floors are clean, every day, without any effort by us
  •  Our kids love Gary - they are totally entertained by his roaming around the house, chirping
  • Did I mention our floors are clean?
So this is the best $300 or so we've ever spent, I highly recommend a Roomba, especially if you have a pet that sheds hair. The Costco kit came with all kinds of cool accessories, like battery powered electric "fences" to keep Gary from cleaning certain rooms (e.g., like our cluttered office or laundry room).

But I admit that an automated, cute vacuum isn't the future. It's been very impactful. But maybe it isn't the future. But maybe there is more than meets the eye?

First of all the company is named after one of the classic books by Isaac Asimov, one of my all-time favorite science fiction writers (forget the crappy Will Smith movie with the same title). Asimov's book is a collection of short stories published in 1950 which describe the evolution of robots from primitive origins to intelligent life forms. From Roomba to Terminator.

But it's just sci-fi, right? Home robots are just for the Japanese - you know those strange Sony pet dogs.

But then I went to check out the iRobot website . They have home robots for bathroom washing, gutter cleaning and pool cleaning. They have a programmable robot for education and researchers. They have industrial ground (e.g., bomb squad robot) and maritime (e.g., remote underwater robots). Holy Asimov Batman! Isn't this like sort of how it all develops in Terminator 3 when a bunch of robots like this become intelligent and belligerent? I guess a belligerent vacuum cleaner isn't too much of a threat. Maybe a self-aware Predator with a Hellfire missile is a different story......

So, my eyes have been opened to a hot new area for innovation and invention that isn't green tech, social, mobile or bio-tech - and it's robotics! My takeaways after a little time with Gary:

  1. Robotics are apparently making impressive strides while we've all been focused on social and mobile. The future, in terms of robotics, looks a lot closer than I would have thought.
  2. iRobot looks like an impressive company with a diverse set of products and probably plans to expand into more applications. Medical costs, aging population, shrinking able-bodied  labor pool, defense - lots of room for them to grow.
  3. Clean floors are really nice, go buy an iRobot Roomba!


  1. is it Luna friendly? We have one but between the kids and the dogs it ended up being more it sits in the closet....or maybe it sits there because it was an anniversary gift.

    lets catch up soon..S

  2. Excellent post. i bought my kid a Robo Sapien 4 years ago - a toy. this year at CES, robots were everywhere. not just iRobot but the whole value chain including off shore manufacturers, open platform operating systems and extension into therapy robots, companion robots, etc.

  3. Totally Luna friendly....We put dog treats on top of Gary the first few times he went to work and Luna overcame her fears. She still doesn't like him, but she doesn't freak out when he goes to work.