Especially in the last two years, the home-robot has been coming into its own through home-made, open source and, often, 3D printed, Arduino-based 3D printers and drones. iRobot’s Roomba vacuum cleaning robot on the other hand, has been around as a consumer product since the early 2000’s. Both approaches have come together in the iRobot Create 2, a new addition to iRobot’s STEM outreach program.
Out of the box, the new iRobot Create 2 looks just like a 600-series Roomba and it is already fully-operational, but the Create 2 development includes a series of additions and programmable functions. For example, you can pair your bot with a microcomputer and a camera, use light-painting to create LED images with long exposure photography, or connect it to a computer and control its every move.
The 3D printing portion of the robot is currently limited to downloading its STL file to make an additional bin, but you know full well that, if iRobot’s operation is successful, Thingiverse and other networks will soon offer a much wider range of open source possibilities. Even more so, since MakerBot itself (the owner of Thingiverse) is a very big supporter of STEM programs.
For iRobot, this is a radical change of direction, which began a few years back, and is likely due to the company need for new ideas and innovations. Just like Tesla’s Elon Musk, iRobot founder Colin Angle is a charismatic genius who has come to the realization that patents are no longer enough to assure a company’s leadership and has made his own technology available to those who want to help develop it further.
I Interviewed Colin Angle once in early 2013 and it was one of the high points in my tech journalism career. I even asked him what he thought about the blooming consumer 3D printing sector and he said that, while iRobot was one of the largest adopters of rapid prototyping technologies in Massachusetts, he had never much believed in consumer 3D printing until just a week earlier, when one of his office assistants bought a Cube 3D printed to make toys for her children.
Now, the time has come for consumer 3D printing to contribute to the development of and inspiration for the company’s new robots, while also providing for a low-cost ($199), highly versatile and accessible platform for teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education in the United States and, by extension, around the world.