Phil Gyford


Wednesday 11 February 2004

PreviousIndexNext Why not to buy a Roomba

I’m not planning on writing about every moment of EtCon; there are plenty of people doing that already, and it’s hard enough for me to concentrate on what speakers are saying without the burden of massaging that into something publishable. I probably won’t even expand on the atmosphere to any great extent. Suffice it to say that hanging out with a gaggle of London friends in a place full of clever folks discussing ideas and projects is a lovely holiday.

That said, the second keynote speech today was a surprising experience. Helen Greiner, co-founder and president of iRobot was here to talk about her company’s products. I usually try and steer clear of sessions that could be thinly veiled sales pitches, but there was no choice for the keynote, and hey, Roombas are cute! It was fun, as Greiner enthused about the product, and while it seemed odd to be listening to a talk about vacuum cleaners, everyone on IRC was having a good time, and a fair few were lusting after the little critters.

Then Greiner moved on, with equal enthusiasm, to iRobot’s other product, PackBot, a military robot. A fun video showed the plucky blighter falling off buildings and being thrown through windows, only to pick itself up and zip off. Hurrah! Laugh! Cheer! But within minutes the tone changed.

IRC was full of people checking themselves as we realised we were cheering hardware being sent into foreign countries, hardware that’s only a step away from weaponry. We weren’t watching cute domestic toys any more, but military maneouvres. We’d gone from a conference for vacuum cleaner salesman to a meeting of the arms trade, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. What was this doing as a keynote? Is this how O’Reilly wants technology to be used?

Lots of online chatter culminated in Kevin Burton asking a question about iRobot’s ethics, although he focused on whether the company would sell PackBots to third world countries or law enforcement, which rather missed the point for me. If you’re going to protest about military uses, it shouldn’t matter at this level whether it’s “us” or “them” putting them to use. Either way, I’ve rarely seen a company prime so many eager customers and then lose them in such a short space of time. If you’ve ever been slightly concerned about where you put your money, don’t get a Roomba.


That's sad. And more's the pity because the world really could use some good cheap mine-clearance robots:

Posted by Prentiss Riddle on 11 February 2004, 4:49 am | Link

So what's the argument - that it's better to be killed by people than by machinery, because you lose that "personal" touch?

I'm willing to bet that Western airforces are probably doing their best to design fighter aircraft that can be flown with the pilots safely on the ground (perhaps by teenagers with the fastest reflexes). (Or would fully automated aircraft be better?) (Are we saying that Arnie in Terminator was basically a more advanced roomba?)

Posted by Glyn on 4 March 2004, 8:45 pm | Link

I wasn't tackling any of those issues Glyn, merely that, in my view, it's better to buy products from companies that aren't also making military hardware.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 March 2004, 8:50 pm | Link

Rediculous POV. You think that if we (you) don't buy products from companies whose technology "may" be used to develop military type "hardware", then "war" will go away? No one will kill one another again? How laughable.

Everyone wants peace (at least the majority of "sane" people in this world). Peace only comes from might, and the ability to defend ones self. Any other POV is unrealistic, immature, miopic and pollyanna.

Posted by Rikki on 23 March 2004, 8:15 pm | Link

Hey, nice "troll"!

Buying something from a company increases their profits. This keeps them in business. If they do something I'd rather wasn't done -- ie, make military hardware -- why would I want to keep them in business?

If you think peace is brought about by fighting then you obviously have a peculiar definition of peace.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 23 March 2004, 9:58 pm | Link

Phil, I am a retired USAF colonel, so in your estimation, my opinion is probably so much garbage. I would ask you a question, though: If the US didn't have the military power to resist, do you think for one minute that we wouldn't be speaking Russian, or Chinese, or whatever language some other military powerhouse speaks when they decided they liked our real estate? Think about it. You'll forgive me if those of us in the military keep our swords sharp while you're thinking. I never was any good at foreign languages.

Posted by Ray on 28 February 2005, 11:26 pm | Link

Me neither Ray. I don't doubt that, unfortunately, we seem to have to spend money on the military. But I think we (particularly the US) spend far more on the military than is necessary, particularly when we're not short of other things that could use the money.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 1 March 2005, 8:05 am | Link

irobot I think is let any company, would you not fly in a 747 just do to the fact that a boeing droped an A-bomb? but then if you think about we have tons of people with all out odd ideas of reality.

Posted by roomba on 2 December 2005, 2:40 pm | Link

I'm a bit (very) late but it had to be said:

Roombas don't kill people, people kill people.

Posted by n0nick on 30 May 2008, 1:46 pm | Link

This is silly. Does this suggest we shouldn't fill our autos with fuel since the same refineries ship the same fuel oversees for use by our tanks and planes and humvees and stykers, etc? We shouldn't buy sound systems because many of the same electronic components used in a stereo are also deployed in high tech weaponry such as smart bombs and targeting systems? We shouldn't breath oxygen because our men and women serving in the military breath it too as they fire their weapons at the enemy?

We own 4 roombas and we're gonna own a couple of more after Santa arrives this year. We own them because they work. Irobot presented us with that long awaited 'killer app' that opened up an entire new world of robotic opportunity to consumers and it's only gonna get better. Besides, if you clobbered someone over the head hard enough with a roomba, it would probably kill them. So, there you go.

Posted by Anthony Palumbo on 7 November 2008, 4:18 pm | Link

I am a Second Class Petty Officer in the US Navy... Those robots they just showed on the iRobot site have saved many lives in Afganistan and Iraq; I am posting some 2 years after the last post on this topic... I would not be here today without machines like this.. and I sure as heck am going to go buy a Roomba to vacuum /my/ barracks room.

You are, however entitled to your opinion whether it is incorrect, or not. I fight to protect your right to have that opinion.. again, whether it is correct or not. Just remember that less then 1% of Americans are patriotic enough to protect their country's way of life.. be it a war for oil or for defense of an allied democracy that sells us bananas.. when there are so few troops.. anything that stands between those troops and enemy IEDs, bombs or bullets is a good thing.

- a concerned E-5

Posted by Heglamore on 10 September 2011, 5:46 pm | Link

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