Comdex: iRobot is real-life R2-D2

From Rick Lockridge - CNN News

November 15, 2000

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- iRobot, the closest thing yet to
a personal R2-D2, is roving Comdex 2000.

Looking like a sportier version of NASA's Mars Rover, the
first wireless, Web-connected robot sees, hears and speaks
for you.

"I was inspired to go into this field by seeing 'Star Wars'
and the R2-D2 character," said Helen Greiner, co-founder of
iRobot. "We wanted robots to be friendly and for people to
think of them as a helping hand around the house."

iRobot has a digital video camera and a built-in sonar so
the operator can "see" from the viewpoint of the robot. It
also has a microphone and speakers, through which the
operator both listens and speaks. A Web browser enables it
to be controlled from anywhere in the world; from within the
room, iRobot functions by remote control.

The 45-pound robot is agile, avoiding obstacles and climbing
stairs using its front flipper. The operator steers it by
pointing and clicking to a destination. And iRobot's beady
laser eyes and limited animation make it look friendly -- a
trait its makers fully intended. It can make eye contact
with a seated person by standing up and extending its neck,
and has a small vocabulary to express itself.

The iRobot can avoid some obstacles and climb over others,
for instance CNN correspondent Rick Lockridge

iRobot runs on the Linux operating system and is a fully
functioning computer. A battery fuels it for about one hour,
after which you can recharge by steering it to a charging
station. The 2.4 GHz iRobot wirelessly connects to the
Internet at 700 KBps, and it has a range of up to 150 feet
indoors. It requires a full-time Internet connection
providing 300 KBps of outgoing bandwidth or more.

Greiner dispels any concern that this $5,000 robot might be
another step forward for "Big Brother."

"You can read a bedtime story to your kids ... you can make
sure the dog didn't eat the geraniums," Greiner said.
"People know the robot is in the room, and they can see the
red light flashing when it tapes."

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