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Comdex: iRobot is real-life R2-D2

iRobot
The designers of iRobot were inspired by R2-D2 from "Star Wars"  
 
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CNN's Rick Lockridge takes a looks at the first wireless, Web-controlled robot at Comdex

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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- iRobot, the closest thing yet to a personal R2-D2, is roving Comdex 2000.

Looking like a sportier version of NASA's Mars Rover, the first wireless, Web-connected robot sees, hears and speaks for you.

"I was inspired to go into this field by seeing 'Star Wars' and the R2-D2 character," said Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot. "We wanted robots to be friendly and for people to think of them as a helping hand around the house."

iRobot has a digital video camera and a built-in sonar so the operator can "see" from the viewpoint of the robot. It also has a microphone and speakers, through which the operator both listens and speaks. A Web browser enables it to be controlled from anywhere in the world; from within the room, iRobot functions by remote control.

The 45-pound robot is agile, avoiding obstacles and climbing stairs using its front flipper. The operator steers it by pointing and clicking to a destination. And iRobot's beady laser eyes and limited animation make it look friendly -- a trait its makers fully intended. It can make eye contact with a seated person by standing up and extending its neck, and has a small vocabulary to express itself.

robot walking over Rick Lockridge
The iRobot can avoid some obstacles and climb over others, for instance CNN correspondent Rick Lockridge  

iRobot runs on the Linux operating system and is a fully functioning computer. A battery fuels it for about one hour, after which you can recharge by steering it to a charging station. The 2.4 GHz iRobot wirelessly connects to the Internet at 700 KBps, and it has a range of up to 150 feet indoors. It requires a full-time Internet connection providing 300 KBps of outgoing bandwidth or more.

Greiner dispels any concern that this $5,000 robot might be another step forward for "Big Brother."

"You can read a bedtime story to your kids ... you can make sure the dog didn't eat the geraniums," Greiner said. "People know the robot is in the room, and they can see the red light flashing when it tapes."



RELATED STORIES:
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October 12, 2000
More pet robots on the way
January 26, 2000
Entertainment robot is more 'byte' than bark
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AmigoBot can be controlled over the Internet
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