The idea that an average person could own a robot that did real work once seemed unimaginable. And then, in 2002, the Roomba came along.
A humble, disk-shaped machine, the Roomba doesn't have a personality or a face, doesn't dazzle with speed or bright lights. It just sucks up dirt and dust from carpets and rugs. Critics said it wasn't a very good vacuum cleaner. But it was good enough for lots of people who didn't care to spend their time vacuuming their homes.
By "lots of people," we mean "millions." Its maker, iRobot Corp., has sold more than 8 million Roombas. In the process, a whole new category of robot — the domestic consumer robot — was created. Robots now were sold in retail stores much like any other household device. Competing robotic vacuum cleaners entered the market. Versions of the Roomba that wash and mop floors were introduced.
Robots were now mainstream. Owners not only used robotic vacuum cleaners, they began to name them. Fans established Roomba websites and Yahoo! discussion groups.
At Roomba's induction into the Robot Hall of Fame, Youssef Saleh, iRobot's vice president and general manager for remote presence, estimated that Roombas together had collected more than a million tons of dirt. Each Roomba, he noted, can travel 700 miles during its lifetime of cleaning. Roomba put iRobot on the map as a company, Saleh said, and it changed public perceptions about the affordability and practicality of robots:
"Roomba has transformed the way people clean their homes and fueled the growing acceptance of practical robots as part of our daily lives."