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Short-Circuited

Being able to use that success and build up features ... will get [us] further than sitting down with a pencil and paper saying, "I wonder if people would buy this Rosie if I built it?" Because, chances are it will come out at a price point where they won't buy it, and it won't have the features that are really important to the users.

So, is it a cost issue or a technology issue?

It's [about] building up capability. In the '60s ... there were ... visionaries who were saying, "We should have computers like [today's laptops]," and what we actually had on the market was ... just pedestrian. However ... the IBM PC and Apple, they created an industry.

Is there anything that your engineers have dreamed up in the lab and said, "Hey this is really cool, and we could do this today," but you said, "There's no market for that?"

In 2000, we had a remote presence robot running around our company. People could log in from anywhere in the world and visit iRobot ... You see what the robot sees, you can hear what it hears. ... We think it's got a huge amount of potential.

But possibly, you wouldn't pay $5,000. We actually got to the point of a prototype on that, and you know, we had to step back before we put it on the market and say, "This isn't going to fly."

On the military side, many of your robots are remote-controlled. As somebody that grew up on R2D2, my gut reaction to remote-controlled robots is that they're not really robots.

I have a little more expansive view of the word "robot." It comes from [Karel] Capek's play, and derives from the ability to do work.

I don't believe that if a robot takes commands from a human that makes it not a robot. In fact, in many scenarios, that's the kind of capability that you want to have built in. So, the Roomba is still a robot if you take a remote control and control it. It's just a user interface.

What are the next fertile fields for robots?

In elder care, helping folks remain more independent. ... Commercial cleaning: You know, we're cleaning houses today, but every store, every retail facility, every school gets cleaned every night. There's outdoors, landscaping, mowing, whether it's home or golf course or all sorts of outdoor leaf picking up, mulching, all sorts of applications there. There's construction and agriculture.

iRobot's Scooba: Friend or Foe?

And then cars are getting more robotic themselves, first starting with safety features and then going into ... autonomy, autonomy for things running down the road and wanting to [avoid] hitting other things.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) co-founder Bill Joy made a big splash a number of years ago with his worries about where technology was going, the idea that we are inventing technology that has the capacity to destroy us on its own. In terms of robotics, is that a real worry, and how far off are we from this fear?

I think in the robot case, we're so far from that. If Roomba gets out of line, [you can] just pick it up and slap it.

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