CES - IRobot opens interface to Roomba platform

IRobot has opened the control interface to its Roomba vacuuming robot, allowing designers to use the platform for nearly any task.

Opening the control interface of its popular Roomba vacuuming robot, iRobot unveiled a programmable robotic platform on Monday that could allow computer programming students and developers to use the platform for nearly any task.

Programmers inside the company have already used the pie-shaped platform -- called Create -- to design robots that carry a laundry hamper and follow a person across a room, find and open the refrigerator door to retrieve a can, or dribble sand on a carpet to sketch intricate designs.

IRobot created the platform by removing the Roomba's vacuuming tools, exposing its electrical connectors for users to add new sensors or actuators, and exposing its payload bay for users to bolt in additional cameras or arms. Otherwise, Create and Roomba have the same mobility, sensing, drive motors and batteries, said iRobot Chief Executive Colin Angle, as he demonstrated the units in a booth at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"This lets creators and inventors have a stable, reliable platform," Angle said. "There are 2.5 million Roombas in the field, so this is very mature. It differs from more traditional hobby robots because it is more reliable."

Beginning students can control Create by downloading short scripts into a basic program, while advanced users can program completely novel behavior using the C or C++ programming languages. Within a month, users will have another option, when iRobot announces compatibility with Microsoft Corp.'s Robotics Studio, a Windows-based development toolkit already used with Roomba.

With those tools, a creative user can build a robot to do nearly anything within the platform's 4-pound carrying capacity. IRobot employees have created systems that can find and lift small objects off the floor, play laser tag or carry a hamster that controls the robot's speed and direction by running in circles through a translucent plastic ball.

IRobot sells the Create platform at its Web site for US$129.99.

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Ben Ames

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