Robots have played a starring, if fictional, role in Hollywood. However, robots didn't become a household reality until Colin Angle.
Born in 1967 in Schenectady, NY, Colin Angle developed a passion for building things from an early age. His passion for fixing things led him to MIT, where, inspired by Star Wars and The Jetsons, Angle joined Professor Rodney Brooks' Artificial Intelligence Lab. Angle's master thesis was Genghis, a six-legged autonomous walking robot with an 8-bit microprocessor and 256-byte brain, which was on display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., for 10 years.
In 1990, after earning a B.S. in electrical engineering and a master's in computer science from MIT, Angle teamed up with Brooks and another student, Helen Greiner, to found iRobot, with Angle as CEO. Their idea was simple, yet ambitious: to make practical robots a reality.
IRobot developed some of the world's most important robots. The company inspired the first Micro Rovers used by NASA, revealed mysteries of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and deployed the first ground robots used in combat by U.S. Army, saving thousands of lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. iRobot brought the first self-navigating, FDA-approved remote presence robots to hospitals and developed robots to help save the environment. The SeaGlider found harmful subsea oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon crisis in 2010, leading to a more complete cleanup, and the PackBot helped shut down the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.
But building home robots for mainstream consumers had always been Angle’s dream. Each time he mentioned that he built robots, he was asked "A robot on Mars is nice, but when are you going to clean my floor?"
On September 18, 2002, iRobot did just that, unveiling the Roomba Intelligent FloorVac. Affordable, practical and effective, the Roomba was an immediate hit, selling more than a million units across 25 countries in less than three years. Surprisingly, Roomba became more than an appliance to its many owners – more than 80 percent of buyers named their Roomba and considered it a member of the family. At the start, Angle and his team took turns answering the company's support line. Angle advised one woman to return a Roomba in need of repair. "No," the woman replied indignantly. "I'm not sending you Rosie!"
After Roomba's success came robots that cleaned shop floors, gutters and pools, fulfilling Angle's vision of intelligent and purpose-first robots designed to help people do more. In 2015, iRobot introduced the Roomba 980, which included innovative floor mapping technology, followed by the Braava jet mop (2017), the Roomba i7+, designed to clean specific rooms and empty itself (2018), and, in 2019, Terra, a robot lawn mower. In 2019, iRobot broke new grown announcing the Roomba s9+ and Braava jet m6, which partner to maintain the home.
IRobot’s success has enabled Angle to give back. He worked with Congress to establish National Robotics Week and created iRobot STEM in 2009, an educational program that has inspired hundreds of thousands of students with hands-on demonstrations of modern-day robotics and engineering.
Under Angle's leadership as chair and CEO, iRobot has grown from an MIT startup to the global leader in consumer robots, with more than $1.09 billion in revenue and 1,000 employees in 12 countries. With more than 25 million robots sold worldwide, iRobot and Angle have turned robots glamorized by Hollywood into a home reality, providing people with smarter ways to clean and accomplish more in their daily lives.
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