iRobot CEO Says Vacuum Cleaners Clear Path to Robot Future

The clash this year over the future of iRobot pitted visionary robotics against the retail success of the company's Roombas, the circular-shaped domestic helpers that have cleaned millions of living rooms around the world.

Colin Angle said he never imagined when he co-founded the company 26 years ago that it would change the way the world views vacuuming. But the chairman and CEO of iRobot also said it's a misconception to think he's running a vacuum cleaner company.

Automated vacuums are the "beachhead of practical robotics in the world today," an important step in the path to the smarter homes to come, Angle said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the company's headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts. The mapping software that helps the latest Roomba model remember where it's already picked up dirt could be the building block for future devices that can fetch a glass of water or adjust the lights when a human walks into a room.

"What iRobot is going to be most appreciated for is not going to be vacuums, it's going to be allowing people to live independently longer so that we can maintain our standard of living as a society," Angle said. "That sounds big and grandiose other than the fact that it's a freight train coming down the tracks that we're going to need to address."

After spinning off iRobot's lagging and volatile military robot division in April and fending off a disruptive proxy fight in May, Angle said he's excited about a new chapter for the company that revives its original 1990 goal: building the kind of useful, everyday robots we've spent generations imagining in books and movies.

"It will allow robots to live up to the Rosie the Robot vision that everyone wants robots to be," Angle said. "Hopefully we'll do it in time,...

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