Friday, July 27, 2007

How iRobot is Like Intel

TIE-Boston put on a really interesting event last night at the MIT Museum: "Mobile and Sociable Robots: At the Leading Edge of Computing."

Cory Kidd from the Media Lab was there, demoing his robotic weight loss coach, which he's hoping to commercialize once he leaves the Lab. I talked with the CTO of Bluefin Robotics, Christopher Wallsmith, about some of their new underwater 'bots that can glide for long periods of time, or hover in place. (Hiawatha wrote a great piece in the Globe earlier this month that included Bluefin.)

But the thing that struck me as most interesting was Helen Greiner's opening talk. (Helen is the co-founder and chairman of iRobot.) Two things struck me, actually.

First was how authentically iRobot has been living up to its mission statement: Build cool stuff, Deliver great product, Make money, and Have fun. They've shipped 2.5 million of their Roomba robotic vaccuum cleaners thus far.

The second thing was that iRobot is the closest thing Boston has to a Google, an Apple, or an Intel: a company that is so clearly the leader in its field that all the best people want to work there (aside from those who're happier in academia). Helen said iRobot now employs about 200 engineers and researchers. These kinds of "magnet" companies not only attract great people, they also make it clear that the region is a center of gravity for their particular industry -- and they start spinning off start-up companies. Q Robotics, one of the other companies on last night's panel, is just such a spin-off. Q CTO Joe Jones was one of the developers of iRobot's Roomba.

That's pretty cool.

(Photo by Jason Grow / Business Week. Chris Brady took some great photos at tonight's event.)

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