Home is Where the Robots Are with Colin Angle (iRobot) | Disrupt SF (Day 2)
2:55AM Sep 7, 2018
We're going to hear now a really fascinating discussion we've all heard of the room but haven't we pioneer of the space it's going to be fascinating now to hear from Colin angle
And and who created the Roomba iRobot which gave the world The only truly mainstream home robot Collins going to discuss how the company plans to make take the device in an even more indispensable direction and create a huge new home smart ecosystem. Get your Instagram out, get your Twitter out. I believe there may well be some breaking news.
So to tease that out of him. We're now going to hear from Brian Heater from TechCrunch round of applause. Everybody. Come on.
We go sufficiently dramatic enough?
yeah we were going for for for big here you know so
Blockbuster right. We have to stop meeting like this Colin. This is probably like a third or fourth time we've done this in as many years
Absolutely well you know robots are changing every year.
So I actually want to give a little kind of a brief history on the company because I don't think people quite understand how far back iRobot goes. So 28 years at this point
So iRobot Colin co founded iRobot in 1990 with a couple of other people. I'm not sure what they've been up to since then. They've been keeping busy with two fellow MIT grads. They went through a lot of iterations in the early days. If you've ever been to their offices in Bedford, you can see the museum. There's baby dolls, there's military robots. What are some of the Stranger Things you guys were working on these days?
Well, you know, our first business model is actually a private mission to the moon funded by potentially the movie rights or what was it? That was the idea is we were working on micro rovers way back in 1990, which actually led to the sojourner rover. And my name is up on Mars, but that that really wasn't a very good business model. And and we went
There aren't that many missions.
Yeah, you can have a good day and then followed by a lot of
Sure. Then in 20 years, you can come up with the next one.
There you go. But so that was interesting. Certainly, our foray into toys was was was ultimately incredibly important for the development of the company but again, not a great business model.
We did actually tried physical video games back along.
What does that mean? Physical video game.
So instead of having a screen, you have robots that you can control and drive like, like, do do it yourself battle bots, not in a cage. And it was cool.
But obviously in the intervening 28 years or so, you figured it out a business model that worked pretty well for the company. The first Roomba came out in 2002, and as you've joked a few times since then, you finally became successful when you became a vacuum salesman.
that Well, absolutely. And, and I'm super excited to be here today, because we're announcing the new Roomba.
Yeah. So again, you know, that the last three or four times we've spoken, I feel like you've really you've been a little cagey with me been a little abstract, you've kind of been talking around the product. You've discussed the importance of the smart home and connectivity we saw the the 900 series come out that could do mapping, but
I feel like you're finally ready to actually be straight with me.
Yeah, it's, you're more right than, you know. I mean, I, I've been talking about the vision of where we're going, I've been talking about what the technology could do. And today, you know, it's here it is. This is the technology it's, it's, it's no longer
thoughts and, and promises it's, it's, it's instantiated in a real product.
Yeah. You know, maybe, maybe not like this the most dramatic reveal in the world because you know, it at its base,
it really is still afraid
We got to have robots and I said, but I mean at its base it is it is a Roomba. It looks it looks very similar to the previous generation
from a purely technological standpoint. What, what's different about this one?
so there's there's two huge differences. The first is is this clean base. And
what it does is allows the robot to empty itself. And I'll talk a little bit about that in a second. And the other is the imprint mapping technology, which allows the robot to actually learn and remember information about the the home, it's cleaning, so it can do it more simply more easily.
What's been interesting to me to watch since the news broke several hours ago is, you know, who, who jumps on which portion of this device you know, we covered it from the standpoint of this mapping and what that means to the future I'm sure that I was
in your mind minority,
but okay. And and most people have been talking about about this, this Queen base right here. So this is the fact that what, 30 times every 30 times or so you actually have to empty that
right. So you know, I can give you a little little demo I mean the the ideal Roomba is the one at least in my mind, you never see and you never touch and you just come home. And every day it does exactly what you want it to do without your intervention. And you have clean floors forever. And there's a couple things that stood in the way of that vision being realized and here we are with the ice seven
knocking them down so
no one wants to empty the dustbin In fact, emptying a dustbin over the, the, the trash barrel sometimes unleashes a dust storm of emptying and and
it's kind of it's kind of that irony of like having to wash the dishes before you put them in dishwasher. Yeah, this is supposed to, you know, break down the difficulty of doing that. But there's still an extra step in the process. You actually have to clean the robot that's cleaning your place
right. And so every time the robot comes back, it
will show you the
there's a very powerful vacuum which takes the contents of the dustbin and sucks it into a sealed bag inside inside this base and it's not a subtle thing we're actually compacting so we have 30 fold dustbins in this rather small clean base and so if you do the math on and say okay well if I feel the dustbin completely everyday well that's, that's a month or if you're like me and you fill the dustbin every week or two.
That's six months to a year between having to go and empty this the space and when you're done, you just pull this off at honor because he closes you throw it out and you're done. So this is a huge improvement in the promise. Because you don't have to touch it for weeks, months, almost a year at a time.
So I suspect that you as a company are moving to a fully automated process, right? That's ultimately the goal here
Right. And, and so the idea is, okay, we've, we've
made the robot maintenance free with our proprietary debris extractor is the rubber brushes on the bottom. So you don't have to clean the brushes. Now, we automatically empty the bins. So at least weeks at a time, you can go without ever having to interact with a robot. And then the question is, okay, well, how do I make sure that the robot does exactly what I wanted to do? And that's what this imprint mapping is about.
It's a little bit more it's a little bit more abstract. I mean, I think the reason why I thought that was more interesting of the two updates here is because you're essentially turning the device into a platform, right? You've created the underlying technology. This is something that you've been working for. For some time. We're going to see some fruits of that when the devices x released and it's a little bit more like releasing a smartphone than it had been in the past, right?
Yes. So you know, this robot has many times the processing power orders of an order of magnitude more processing power actually 3040 times the processing power. It's it's basically a cell phone class microprocessor running inside this robot. And maybe I'll give him the audience. I'll give a little bit of technical detail as to how they're here.
So this imprint mapping technology has three main components. The first is a third generation v slam engine, which allows the robot as it moves around the environment to go and create a map and then as the robot continues to go out in multiple runs, improve the map so that if you move the couch or you open a door that was closed last time the robot goes out, the map can evolve and stay current.
So, so v slam for like my parents were in the audience right now it's visualization,
visual simultaneous localization and mapping. So it's the, the core mapping engine. And the second is a visual landmark system, which creates landmarks in your home, which can be recognized regardless of the lighting conditions in the home. And so that's a sounds hard is hard
in order to essentially know where it is at any given time
right. So if I can see 123 landmarks triangulate down boom, I know where I am. And if I can do that in different lighting conditions, then the robot can operate at any time of the day and not get lost.
How do you correct for the fact though? You know, I mean, it's, it's not, you know, it's not San Francisco. It's not New York City. It's not, you know, it's not the trans American building and the Golden Gate that you're using to triangulate it. It's somebody's house so tables are moving chairs are moving people rearrange all the time
right so you know we we go and we look up at at the upper half of the walls we find pictures window sills things like that scanning everything it's it's looking for things that it can recognize in a variety of lighting conditions and it works really well one of the magic about the second cat of the second feature is that I can take this robot
put it anywhere in the home and nearly instantly it knows where it is so it can't get lost and that's critically important because this imprint technologies a foundation on which we build all sorts of new cool stuff
so you know it I mean, at least in the past say I think it's sort of it knows where the doc so it knows you know it can use that to return to the doc Why is it Why is it important that this knows what the kitchen is and what the living room is?
Okay so I haven't gotten there yet. So what a little bit of bear with me a second. And then the the third dimension is that information that you place on that map actually is correlated down to sort of the shape of the home. And if you open a door and the map changes, all of that information stays registered. And so that's this imprint engine on top of it, I can build apps and the first app that comes with a robot that we developed is this home segmentation
room segmentation and labeling so you send the Roomba out it goes and builds a map and now it says okay I made this map of your home and here's where I think the rooms are and you say Well Did I get it right if so just label the rooms if you want to go change some boundaries you can go and change those boundaries
when you say it knows where the rooms are you mean it just say it knows sort of the you know it's like semi superficial differences like walls what the the barriers that separate one room from another and they're gonna lay out.
Yeah, there's an AI that knows home layout. And what typically represents a boundary between rooms so that it's probably 80 90% right on its own. So you're not starting from scratch. You just have to tweak it here. And then you say, Well, this is the den. This is the kitchen. This is a bathroom and you have a map.
So there's, there's some user setup initially when you get this home
right, because we don't know what you call your room. I mean, some people could call a living room or Dan or a playroom. And we want to make sure we use the language that you use. And there are some things where, you know, you can have a big room that's a square and yet you think it's two rooms and so the robots not smart enough to know that you have to tell it.
I live in New York City and we, you know, consider everything a room because we don't have a lot of space out there. Is it is it generally able to distinguish though on its own? Does it have a base level knowledge that I can tell the difference? between, you know, the kitchen and living room doesn't know what landmarks constitute a kitchen
but not at launch. So that, you know this, this is, as you said, a platform. And so we download and updates all the time. And what the robot does at launch is kind of, you know, equivalent to what your iPhone did the first time you bought it. And then over time, it got smarter and smarter and could do more things. Well, we haven't seen kind of opportunity here. And so you get the robot, you run it, it tells you what the rooms are you now you know what the names of the rooms are, and then you can use that information.
So suddenly you can say, okay, Google, clean the kitchen
and the right thing happens. So this directed room cleaning is is a new thing that we can do. In fact, we had to go work with, you know, the smart speaker guides to say okay,
we now have a customer who wants to work with you iRobot that wants to tell you about rooms. This is very, very important. Because if I can tell you about rooms, then you're smart speaker can be a lot more useful because you can say things like, you know, clean the kitchen. And so that that's huge. And then the other thing that's it, it is maybe cooler to me is that I hate it when the Roomba goes out and cleans half a room and then cleans half of another room and then half another room because it doesn't actually understand or remember the full layout of the home.
And now since we know what rooms are, Roomba can clean the kitchen completely and then clean the next room and never have to go back and that substantially improves the efficiency of the robot so we can put more battery power into cleaning dirt less driving around.
I'm glad you brought up smart assistants obviously Alexa and google home google assistant are a big part of this
when we did a briefing for this, I went I visited you in Massachusetts. And we looked at this early on. And you know, obviously we're very excited to show to me and to show it to everyone here today. And you said something along lines of this was the the Roomba that you would always wanted to create. And I'm wondering when you're working with such a long runway when you're working with these technologies, and you know, in some cases kind of waiting for the technologies to catch up with you
and then Siri comes along and then the Amazon Echo comes along How much does that change your vision of the product? How much of an impact does the explosion and connected home and smart speakers have on a device like this?
Well, I think that the it accelerates the rate of change it means that we can do more things and so you know, before we jump into smartphones, I could show the video can you bring up that that video of This navigation system in action
Okay, so here you have on the on the your left side of the of the screen obviously an iPhone app with big clean button and to the right you can see what the the imprint maps look like and you can see that we've this this home is divided into different rooms the user of this robot has named the rooms and you can see those names and then if we roll the tape just go forward you can see what the new interface actually will do. So you click the clean button by for you did before but suddenly you can choose the rooms you want to clean.
Here is the list of the rooms on the first floor. You say clean the living room and off it goes.
This is the what is it the 4000 square foot
This is testing iRobot home Test Lab
when I went and visited you and Massachusetts you have you have an entire I mean it is probably four or five times the size of my apartment a big fake home setup in the offices
that with stylish furniture mentioned that they yeah so you know we do huge an extensive testing on all of these but you could see it it went out I said clean the living room we drove deliver him clean and came back based on this imprint technology.
And so this understanding of the home that you just enabled because of your your Roomba is the foundation for doing a lot more things and you started talking about Alexa and the larger smart home and I think that one of the challenges with smart home smart homes today is
we as occupants of homes. Think about our house in terms of rooms and spaces I go into the den I turn on the lights in the den I turn on the TV in the day I might adjust the the temperature to make it comfortable. And yet our devices that we put into the home unless we're very diligent about programming them have no idea where they are.
In fact, the homes don't have any idea of what a spaces and so how can you be magically useful without knowing what a room is, right? Because what's supposed to happen is you walk into a room and it just does the right thing. And if I say, Alexa, turn on the TV, that right TV as opposed to turn on. If I say okay, Google, turn on the lights in the kitchen, the right lights are supposed to turn on.
And that's very difficult to do today without explicit User Programming and the type of technology we're showing on the seven can actually provide that type of information if, as a user of Roomba you wanted to.
It's interesting. I mean, you know, we're talking about sort of set it and forget it technologies. And some of these cases, you know, you take it out of box and you determine what each room is. And then, you know, hopefully, you as an end user never have to worry about what the room is, if one of the key selling points to this, at least down the road is that it's going to be this kind of connective tissue for the smart home and determine where all these devices are. I mean, isn't that something we're just sort of goes out that first time it maps the house, it finds out where everything is and then you're kind of good from there or do you need a product that keeps patrolling your home?
Well if you are a
actively trying to manage your household today, your smart home today,
then you've probably noticed that about a week after you finally get it programmed and working right, you add something
or you move a light to a new place. Or you move a couch and suddenly the programming that you did or you hired someone to do to make your homework
is wrong or incomplete and you get frustrated because just got a device and it's not connected to that light. And when I push that light all the lights but the one new one turn on and that's frustrating and so that
this is a killer issue today and it's only going to get worse because in the future instead of 10 smart devices in our home, we're going to have 100 smart devices in the home and who and what is going to manage that level of complexity. Your average consumers has not suddenly evolved from the consumer who never programmed their VCR. It has to be seamless. It has to be magical and just happen and so that if simply by owning a modern vacuum cleaner you get a smart home for free
so that's that's something That that's one of those updates that's going to come as and over the air update at some point.
Yeah, I mean, I think that again, this is a starting Yeah, the all of this technology goes into making this a spectacular vacuum cleaning robot when you talk about something like that, though, and again, it's something you've been talking about for a while. Is that something that we are definitely going to see as an update for this product that's on the stage right now? I mean, yes, in fact, the integration with other smart home developers is well underway. In fact, you know, we had to go and create
relationships beyond fully arm's length in order to get the type of room based functionality that you're seeing today with Google Home and Alexa so that this this partnership and development is is moving along and it works today.
Do you want to talk about those partnerships? And we don't have all the time right now. But early on in the early days, early days, a couple of years ago when he first started
early days is 90.
Yeah, no, not even those early days, you know, a couple years ago when he first started. So we're touching upon this technology, you were discussing partners. And obviously, for something like this to work, you're going to have partners, you're going to have to have a, you know, an Apple or Google or an Amazon and all these other smart home devices.
Now, one of the things that I think some raise some red flags for people was this idea of third party companies. And, you know, that's especially important when you're talking about a product that's driving around somebody's house and mapping not not only their home, but like we're all the really expensive things are in their home. So first of all, is there any plan for iRobot to sell those maps to other companies?
No, iRobot will not sell your data. In fact, we have roots in Defense, we have roots in very high levels of security, we're GDPR compliant. And in fact, we go well beyond that in our approach to ensuring not just data privacy, but data security, and treat the data collected by the robot as your data and so that if this data is going to be used for something other than making your Roomba work better than you, the customer are going to want to say I want this new service and allow some type of qualitative information to be shared.
So there's an opt in and and I guess we've got a hit this really quickly because when we have a little under a minute right now, but you know, there's a certain base level security once on the device itself, but then you're sending it to phone and then you're sending it to server and then you're sending all these devices. So how do you ensure that that information is secure?
Well, the the type of information that leaves the robot is very qualitative. First off, it's not photos it is it is abstract you know you saw the type of information that is stored so that's hardly Where are the Family Jewels it's squares and some text so they can know at worst where the kitchen in your home is we encrypt everything on the robot so we never send information the clear and so that it is not something that can be intercepted and then
you know both up and then after the mobile device and so that we have many layers of protection and continuously ensure that we are
using state of the art
crypto and and encoding schema to ensure that we are responsible guardians of the limited information that you have allowed the robot to take
great Converse. We're at a time but thank you so much.