ing fluid), and Taser International. The
new Roomba 530, 560, and 570 greatly-improved models seem to be a hit.
They no longer get tangled in carpet
fringe, cords, and similar. Priced from
$250 to $400, they are more powerful,
have newer non-contact sensors, a better virtual wall, and greater filtration.
The recent Consumer Electronics
Show (CES) in Las Vegas recently
presented iRobot with the Best of
Innovations Design and Engineering
Award for their latest product — the
Looj gutter-cleaning robot line priced
from $85-$170 (Figure 4).
I asked Helen why the name and
she told me it reminded her of the
small luge racing sleds as it snakes its
way through a clogged gutter, tossing
the leaves and mess out with its spinning auger. This was iRobot’s third win
at the CES in four years. Not bad for a
company that didn’t exist a decade and
a half ago and is now close to one
quarter billion dollars in annual sales.
I found the whole conversation
with Helen most informative. She
not only speaks with tremendous
enthusiasm about the past accomplishments and future of her company, but
does so with a definite knowledge of
the potential market and how to
address those future customers with a
solid plan of commercialization.
Enthusiasm is one thing, but a solid
technical background coupled with
down-to-earth business sense is what
makes Helen stand out among the
competition. Her forward-looking
instincts and leadership in the industry
have led iRobot to become a world
leader in the robot industry. “Helen is
an innovator in technology, government
research, and business,” says Rodney
Brooks, her MIT professor and advisor,
member of the board, and mentor to
her and Angle in forming the company.
In 2007 at the ROBOBusiness
Conference, iRobot sponsored an
amateur robot building contest that
required the builder to use their iRobot
Create platform as a starting point
(Figure 5). Danh Trinh won the $5,000
prize with his teleoperated ‘Personal
Home Robot’ that can water plants,
control home systems, and act as a
media center (Figure 6).
Helen has led the company into
winning an Army $51.4M contract for a Small Unmanned
Ground Vehicle (SUGV), and is
continuing development of
the AWARE Robot Intelligence
Systems and improvements in
the iRobot Create platform.
She was recently named by
the Kennedy School at Harvard as one
of America’s Best Leaders and was
honored with the Pioneer Award from
the Association for Unmanned Vehicle
Systems International (AUVSI) in appreciation for her work in military robotics.
She was also recognized by
Fortune Magazine as one of its “Top
10 Innovators of 2003” and named the
Ernst and Young New England
“Entrepreneur of the Year” with co-founder Angle. Earlier, she was named
an “Innovator for the Next Century” by
Technology Review Magazine in 1999.
She has appeared in many prestigious
magazines and TV shows, sits on several scientific boards, and is a frequent
speaker at many technical symposiums.
Helen certainly does not spend all
her time thinking of robots, however.
She is an avid snowboarder (she loves
the speed), scuba-diver, rock climber,
paint-baller, ice hockey player, and
wind surfer, yet, still has time to tend
her English Garden. I doubt that she’s
ever going to slow down in the near
future. There are too many potential
robotic applications out there in the
world for her to conquer.
FIGURE 4. Side view of Looj Gutter-Cleaning Robot.
Cynthia Breazeal is an Associate
Professor in MIT’s Media Lab and is
Director of the Robotic Life
Group (Figure 7). I didn’t
plan on highlighting only
women from MIT but I felt
that these two women
(Greiner and Breazeal) had
taken dramatically different
directions after graduation,
yet possess many similari-ties. Many first-rate
female robotics researchers
have come from Carnegie
Mellon, Stanford, and
other premier universities
around the US and world,
and are making their
names known amongst their peers.
These two women know each other
quite well, but Cynthia felt that her place
was in academia, imparting her knowledge on others and doing basic research.
Cynthia did not start out as a robot
enthusiast as a young girl; she was more
interested in climbing tall trees with her
brother, Bill, plus swimming, tennis, soccer, and track. It was a trip to the movies
as a 10-year old — “Star Wars” in fact —
that led her to a love for R2-D2 and
C-3PO and robots in general, much like
iRobot’s Greiner. Sports continued to be
her first love as she felt that these robots
with such admirable personalities were
impossible to build. Her desire was to be
a medical doctor, though she grew up in
a family that was science and technology oriented. It was her parents who
encouraged her to major in engineering.
Breazeal received her BS in
Electrical and Computer Engineering
from UC Santa Barbara in 1989, and
her Masters (1993) and Doctorate
(2000) from MIT in Electrical
Engineering and Computer Science.
UCSB got her hooked on engineering,
physics, chemistry, and astronomy —
paving the way for her to ultimately
develop the type of robot she wanted.
She worked at the UCSB robotics
center part time during her summers “to
get her hands dirty,” as she says. She
FIGURE 5. Helen holding the
Create Platform at the CES Show.
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