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Robot Invasion Escalates

NEW YORK--Burlington, Mass.-based robot manufacturer iRobot demonstrated a couple of new gadgets yesterday afternoon.

iRobot CEO Colin Angle holds the ConnectR robot after demonstrating the device. (Rob Pegoraro)

One, the Looj, falls into the same category of household helper as its Roomba vacuum and Scooba floor washer (here's my review of the latter). This $99 robot crawls down a gutter on little tank treads, sweeping out leaves and the gunk they decompose into with a plastic auger. Seems straightforward enough to me (if a senseless waste of perfectly good compost).

And then there's the ConnectR, a "telepresence" robot that you leave at home, then control remotely from across the Internet. What do you do with this control? You roam around your own house, seeing everything through a Webcam and hearing everything through a microphone--while also talking to anybody present through the ConnectR's speakers. That's right: Your cybernetic self can roll up to a carbon-based life form in your house and have a chat. IRobot's site explains the possibilities:

* Participate in family moments even though you're working late * On a business trip? Read your kids a story and see their faces light up * Join the fun from near or far * Throw a party from a thousand miles away * Tell Fido he's a "good boy" even while you're on vacation

IRobot chief executive Colin Angle conducted an unintentionally hilarious demo of the thing in which he, as the traveling businessman, "called" his wife (really, another iRobot exec) by logging into the ConnectR from his laptop and speaking to her through it. She asked him to read the kids a bedtime story, at which point the robot wheeled towards the bedroom. Then a set of pictures portrayed the ConnectR interacting with kids and dogs.

The whole thing looked like a Saturday Night Live commercial--by the end of the demo, several people in my row were giggling--but it's very much real. The ConnectR will go on sale early next year for $499, though inquisitive types willing to provide iRobot with feedback can buy one later this year for $199. And it won't even be the first such gadget. Erector's Spykee, a $299 Internet-controlled gizmo on treads with a webcam and Skype Internet calling, will be in stores next month--though the marketing portrays it as a toy, not a family-bonding tool.

After the demo, Angle said that he's had a ConnectR at home for a while, and his daughter--whom, he said, long ago got used to the idea of robots cleaning up after her--likes it. He said she calls it "Daddy" when he talks through it.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 28, 2007; 8:57 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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Next: Digital Life: They'll Let Anybody In Here


northern karea is building humanoid to distribute to home stop wasting you time on pity household equipment when the humanoid will have all the incorporate in to it's design.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 28, 2007 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I would be worried about potential security issues. What if a hacker were able to break into the robot and use it to spy on your home? What kinds of security does this ConnectR utilize in order to prevent intrusion? On the other hand, this could be a really good idea in that you could remotely find out if there are problems at home. I wonder if someday a voice recognition module might be added so that if, for example, there were an emergency in the house someone could say "call the police" or "call for help" and the robot would dial 911.

Posted by: terran2200 | September 28, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

And I thought the Looj was going to be a Loo-cleaning robot, which is what the world really needs! Just imagine if little iRobot porcelain scrubbers were living up under the seats of every public toilet in the land. It'd be a marvelous and sparkling clean day! (Nevermind the impact on cleanliness in the home...)

Posted by: slacy | September 28, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

I cleaned gutters in the DC area during college for 5 years. I have cleaned 100's of gutters, and let me tell you, this product is not going to work. Maybe if you use it once a week during the fall, and spring season, IF your gutters are already clean. As soon as the leaves get wet or the debris piles up, that thing will be stuck. Also a lot of roofs turn and curve, so you will have to move your latter several times. This product reminds me of electric scissors. I wouldn't be surprised if they start selling these on infommercials.

Posted by: G-reg | September 28, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

You could use it to safely rob a bank! Strap explosives to it and steer it to a bank exec. Tell him or her to wire money into an oversea account or you'll detonate. I'm getting one!

Posted by: Big Johnson | September 28, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Big Johnson, that was an exellent punch line. You made my day...oh and about the robots...I would love mine to have a personallity...a depressed one straight from the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Riot!

Posted by: BigJohnson wanna be | September 28, 2007 5:21 PM | Report abuse

As if the roomba didnt scare the cats enough, now people can buy the ConnectR and chase thier pets around while at work or out of town...

Posted by: Crazed | September 28, 2007 5:50 PM | Report abuse

It needs a movable arm to knock on doors and move dangly things in front of kitties. Otherwise, it's simply ingeneous.

Posted by: Delbin | September 28, 2007 6:39 PM | Report abuse

A very good point would be the security issue per robot. How much self autonomy would we be willing to grant and could they become a source of giving gossip if they could vocalize, giving rise to certain disclosures not for publication but great for the tabloids? There is so much to discuss about robotics and I would start at M.I.T. Labs, tops in the country.

Posted by: Aerospaceman | September 28, 2007 8:34 PM | Report abuse

the ConnectR is an interesting device, but I can foresee an immediate problem involving pets and children. Put simply, children of today are usually very tech-savvy. They could easily learn to turn it off. They could also disable it by simply turning it over. What kid wants their parents to be able to spy on them. As for pets, a big, aggressive dog would make short work of it, and probably electrocute itself in the process of doing so. Can it negotiate stairways? If not then you would have to purchase a seperate one for each floor level of the house. Lastly, I think that it's physical design should be reconsidered. A Japanese developer would probably make it more attractive and noticable. Dad is always tripping over the kid's toys right? This device promises to be another underfoot obstacle as it is.

Posted by: Tony Navarro | September 28, 2007 8:43 PM | Report abuse

"northern karea is building humanoid to distribute to home stop wasting you time on pity household equipment when the humanoid will have all the incorporate in to it's design."

What's different here is that this is available in a reasonable amount of time, it will be cost effective for use per size and that it's users will probably know how to spell properly and use correct sentence structure. Any "humanoid" device will take far longer to develop, test and put to practical use simply because it has to cope with and identify far more in the way of household obstacles than this would ever have to. If said "humanoid" trips over a small table or chair, will it easily get itself up? Doubtful. Will said "humanoid" be strong enough to push anything more than a small objects out of it's way? Doubtful.

p.s. It's spelled "Korea."

Posted by: Anonymous | September 28, 2007 9:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't have any worries about security issues. there's tons of tunneling software that excrypts transet data that i'm sure the robot can use. ie: hamachi, tor.

it's an awesome idea though i wonder how long each charge holds.

Posted by: Jake R | September 28, 2007 9:28 PM | Report abuse

I am worried about the hacking capabilities. The fact that it is internet accessable just kinda screws the whole idea of "safety." The gutter cleaner thing won't work either. It would need to have spikes or divots and flip out the dirt to really make any progress.

Posted by: Tyler | September 28, 2007 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for this wonderful invention. Now, I can monitor every aspect of your personal life. Blackmail, anyone? Ho-ho-ho-ho-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha etc.

Posted by: The Man | September 29, 2007 1:57 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: ok | September 29, 2007 4:57 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: not ok | September 29, 2007 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Rob Pegoraro, I want a bite of your hot muffin. I can't believe it's not butter!

Posted by: Secret Admirer | September 29, 2007 6:12 AM | Report abuse

Two words: Cheating wives.

Posted by: bobL | September 29, 2007 9:22 AM | Report abuse

cheating wives indeed! that was the first thought that came to my head as well. i think there are many many moral and ethical issues to discuss here. not just in relation to this product in particular, but what the implications of the introduction of this product to modern society will bring

Posted by: Anonymous | September 29, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Shhhh - the CIA is sending one of these things to Ackmedinajob right now. Don't tell...

Posted by: Geno - USA | September 29, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Maybe lonely people in Minnesota's airport can have their ConnectR meet strangers in the bathroom for sex, and if the police arrive, promptly log out and self-destruct.

Posted by: Friend | September 29, 2007 7:18 PM | Report abuse

I can connect a dildo to it and please my wife while I and out of town.

Posted by: Gizmo | September 29, 2007 9:53 PM | Report abuse

you mean South Korea right? North Korea can't even keep it's population from starving to death, the only technology it has is strictly military

Posted by: cantara | September 30, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Hey perhaps we could strap food to its back and use it to feed the millions of people who live in utter poverty while we get excited about this meaningless consumer crap.

Posted by: Andy | September 30, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

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