Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Movie, I, Robot, Meets The Company, iRobot

Robots for the real world!!!


excerpts from http://www.techweb.com/

I, Robot, the movie, made many moviegoers interested in robotics to log onto the Internet to learn more about the robotics phenomenon. When they go to the Web, they will also find, iRobot, the company.

Isaac Asimov's science fiction classic set in a future 2035 Earth in Chicago is already generating new-found interest in robotics. The movie features Will Smith as a "robotphobic" police detective who encounters a robot called NS-5.

"Some people are already coming to our web site and asking to buy an NS-5," said iRobot Chairman Helen Greiner in an interview Wednesday. "It's certainly getting our brand out there." Greiner notes that there are no robots like the NS-5 for sale yet, but she points to her company's popular robots as the next best thing: the miniature tank-like PackBot, which is seeing action with U. S. military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Roomba Floorvac vacuum cleaner. More than 500,000 models of the vacuum cleaner have been sold.

iRobot has a co-marketing deal tied to the movie, which is scheduled for release July 16. Greiner, who is one of the founders of the company and an alumna of MIT's famous Artificial Intelligence Lab, is scheduled to talk on robots at the Smithsonian Institution a few days before the movie opens. What will she present?

"I always bring my robots on presentations," she said referring to the way she travels with her robots like other people travel with their cats and dogs. "I'm way more popular when I bring robots. I'll tell them what the robotics state of the art is today."

Greiner has seen a preview of the movie and she said it is "fabulous." Asimov, who died in 1992 after writing more than 400 books, presented the Laws of Robotics in his book, upon which the movie is loosely based. Roughly, the laws state that robots may not injure humans and they must obey humans. In the story, however, the detective initially believes he is confronting a new race of dangerous robots.

Greiner believes the movie may influence a new generation to become interested in robotics much like the Star Wars movies influenced her. She said the R2D2 robot's human-like characteristics in Star Wars had an impact on her when she saw the movie as a schoolgirl on Long Island. She went on to MIT where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science.

"It takes all three (disciplines) and they must all come together in robotics," she said, adding, "I am actually a geek." Along with two other robotics specialists from MIT -- Rod Brooks and Colin Angle -- they founded iRobot in 1990.

When she discusses robotics, Greiner has two separate and distinct approaches -- one for tech-savvy audiences, the other for more general audiences. She said Asimov's Laws of Robotics -- originally developed in 1950 -- were created before the massive challenges of computer programming were understood and artificial intelligence was thought to be a relatively simple process; it still takes a huge effort today to create even a rudimentary robot.

For general audiences not familiar with robotics, Greiner stresses that robots are "inherently safe and can't do any damage."

The movie -- I, Robot -- was four years in the making, although science fiction fans have been trying to make a film of the book since the 1970s.


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