Helen Greiner is a co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks. She is a Trustee of the Museum of Science; on the Computer Science Advisory Board of Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and a Director of the National Defense Industrial Association.
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My name is Helen Greiner and I frikkin’ love robots. I’m the former President and Co-Founder of iRobot — maker of the Roomba — and current president of CyPhy Works. I’ve been working on drone technology for over 4 years now, and love what I do.
Happy to answer your questions about anything and everything - from what current drones are capable of to what a "drone" technically is, the future of drone technology, or just geek out about flying robots.
Currently, my team and I are working on a drone that anyone can easily fly, right out of the box. Here’s the kickstarter for more info: (http://www.cyphyworks.com/LVL1). It’s the first drone to be invited to the White House! https://medium.com/@helengreiner/why-i-brought-lvl-1-my-new-drone-to-the-white-house-fedcd4d706f2
For proof, here’s me with our new drone, the LVL 1 https://twitter.com/helengreiner/status/603965074336677888
What's your most useless talent that you could put on your résumé?
How did you get started working in robotics, and what next project are you most looking forward to getting started?
When I was 11, I went to the cinema and saw Star Wars and fell in love with R2-D2—because he had a character, a personality, an agenda to save the universe. He seemed more than a machine. I’ve been intrigued with building things that are more than machines ever since.
I am really excited by delivery drones...I want my packages sooner. Instant gratification!!
My last roomba beat itself to death on the cabinets. Are there any significant advances around, or in the pipeline, to make them less dumb? If so, should I fear my vacuum will overpower me?
Sorry to hear that you lost the little guy:( He might have had a faulty sensing system.
iRobot continues to push ahead on AI in roomba: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/next-roomba-may-recognize-crap/
I don't think you will ever need to fear your roomba. It is programmed to vacuum..That's what he does! That's ALL he does! You can't stop him!
Can you provide some advice for young boys and girls (elementary level) who love robots and want to learn how to build robots?
There are many GREAT programs for kids to learn about robots. Botball is one: http://www.botball.org/ they teach the teachers how to teach with robotics.
FIRST is great...they give robotics the excitement of a sporting competition.
If you don't have access to these programs, just decide what you want your robot to do and start building with open source parts from the maker movement (Adafruit is a great place to get them).
Or start with a robot like the iRobot Create (which I spearheaded at iRbot for exactly this) or our new LVL1 drone, and add more robotics capability as a payload.
Any thought on Elon Musk donating $10 Million to The Future Of Life Foundation, and are you also afraid of the future of AI? Will a Roomba army eventually rise up against us?
If your Roomba gets uppity, suggest you smack it:)
No I am not afraid of robots rising us against us. Nor is anyone who is working on them: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/26/science/darpa-robotics-challenge-terminator.html
However, I am afraid of programmers making errors that cause accidents or security breaches...this is a different issue though.
You are a role model for young women to go into STEM related fields and a lot of people like myself admire you for how far you've gotten following your passion. Sometimes however the tech business can be a bit unwelcoming to girls and women, specially the entrepreneurial aspect of it and that puts a big challenge. Did you
ever face any kind of discrimination or special treatment based on gender? and do you have any kind of advise to young women facing this kind of issues?
Early on I was one of the only women at many conference. So it could be a bit intimidating as a young lady. But people always remembered me as the "robot lady". So like other things in life, it can be a double edge sword and you should focus on the positive. We are lucky today to have alot of notable women in robotics.
Advice: out geek the geeks who are unwelcoming. Study STEM, build robots, hack computer, invent, and evangelize your ideas.
what is the bottleneck in designing/deploying robots to fully automate the garment industry? is human labor simply too cheap? what other areas would you like to see robots do more work but the human labor is simply too cheap?
Garments..that's a tough one. Lot's of fine manipulation...and lots of great papers here at the ICRA robot conference addressing it. Progress is being made.
I work on robots that empower people, not take their jobs. I spearheaded PackBot, a bomb disposal robot, that has saved the lives of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians by keeping them at a safer standoff distance. Our new, CyPhy LVL1, extends your reach so get stunning imagery like you couldn't before. Robots can empower people.
How soon before I can get the drones I need to launch my aerial taco delivery business?
The FAA currently restricts non line of sight commercial drone businesses. I am positive this will change in the future. The drone will be ready before the regulations!
How scared should we be about drones?
Like any technology, drones can be used for both good and bad purposes. There are so many positive benefits for users, both personal and in industry. #dronesforgood
How about the one you posed - what actually constitutes a drone?
Hmmm, I try to avoid semantic debates on "what is a robot?" "what constitutes a drone?". I find they take alot of time and don't give very satisfying results. As was said about another industry "I don't know, but I know it when I see it"
But at the bottom on it a robot or a drone ties sensors to actuation through intelligence.
I can hardly wait! What are you guys going to do in the meantime at CyPhy?
We're working on pushing boundaries all over. Our PARC system is racking up the hours of continuous flight, our Pocket Flyer system is showing how nano-drones can fly non-stop in collapsed buildings, and we have other fun projects in our pocket.
Oh, and don't forget that we have a fanatically dedicated team of engineers making the LVL 1. ;)
How do you and CyPhy works see the future of commercial (non-military) drones in the near & distant future?
We believe that a big constrain on robots today has been adapting to their environment, requiring different shapes and sizes depending on the place they are meant to be used. Since drones can fly over obstacles they can reach more places and faster. Now we can start thinking on what else we want the robots to do once they can get to the place of action. Flying robots can do inspections, deliver goods, pick up litter from the sides of highways. Aid much larger vehicles with navigation, etc.
Sense and avoid will make all these system much safer and make non line of sight applications safe (and then we push the FAA to make them legal!)
Do you think personal transportation drones will become a thing in our lifetime? That always seems like the dream of futurists from the 60s, that everyone will basically be able to fly point to point, but I haven't heard of anyone working on that technology.
All the work we are doing on unmanned systems will help make personal transportation drones safe. There are some people working this now at places like terrafugia. Autonomous drone technology will make it so you don't need to be an experienced pilot to operate one safely.
My philosophy is start small and scale up...
What's your favorite Hollywood robot? And have you seen Ex-Machina?
I am an unabashed R2D2 fan, he is my muse.
Ex-Machina - not yet, too busy with company. I am out at ICRA today, then SF, the DARPA Robotics Challenge, then Cisco DevNet (its a westcoast roadtrip). Looking forward to the movie though.
Aside from R2D2, do you have a favorite robot ?
Ha! you threw this in b4 I even answered the favorite robot question. You know me too well...
My favorite robots are Roomba,PackBot, PARC, Pocket Flyer, and LVL1. Choosing would be like a Mum picking between her kids...
Drones in the US are still hamstrung by the FAA. Our airspace is probably the most complex on the globe, but other countries are embracing them. Are you planning to go outside the US with your drones ? Do you think there are restrictions (like ITAR etc.) that would prohibit you from doing it ?
At least the FAA is doing something now. For decades this wasn't the case ie there was no path to commercial flight. Now you can apply for a 333 exemption. This will change in 2016 when the FAAs proposed rules become law (fingers crossed). Then you will be able to fly commercially with a drone pilot certification.
The ITAR restricts mostly long range drones and their navigation systems.
We see alot of demand internationally and are pushing into Japan and Europe. But I hate to see companies moving R&D to other countries because of the FAA restrictions. We need a strong "experimental" category that lets people test new developments under safe conditions. Drone experimentation should not be treated like manned aircraft experimentation because there is no test pilot onboard.
Those are currently more like remote control helicopters; which is still super cool! But what about humanoid robots? You've done wheeled and now flying bots... Any desire to jump into the humanoid space?
Our LVL 1 already has autonomous behaviors (follow, waypoint nav, etc), And our finger are itching to add more. We have added a drone behavior pack as a stretch goal on our kickstarter, if we reach $750K funding http://www.cyphyworks.com/LVL1
No personal desire to jump into humanoids. There are 7 billion people on earth and they mostly work exceeding well. We would have to exceed their capability to make humanoids commercially viable. Great for the universities to be working though...http://www.theroboticschallenge.org/.
I think we need to build up robotics capability rather than jump into mechanism as complex as a human.
Do you have a cat? If you do, does it run around your roomba?
No cat. But I love the roomba cat videos on the internet. Cats love riding roomba and people love watching cats ride roomba. Why?
Pro cat tip: I hear that you can attach a laser pointer to your roomba and drive your cat wild.
How do you feel about the jet-powered reproducing roomba in Questionable Content?
Will we ever get to a point were self replicating robots "evolve"?
There may or may not already be a flying roomba exactly like the one on questionable content at CyPhy Works. Some of our engineers like to play with stuff and some of them are Questionable content fans.
Hint: When Hannelore returns the flying roombas to the "Roomba people" they didn't go to iRobot ;-)
We have been participating in Botball competitions in the three years. We are also actively participating in VEX Robotics Competition and really enjoying it. We will look into LVL1 drone more. Thanks for your advice. Will you come to DRAPA Grand Challenge in Pomona?
Me and many drones will be at the DARPA Robotics Challenge!
Hope to see you there. It is open to the public at Pomona Fair Grounds in LA on June 5 and 6.
What do you think when you see small animals ridding roomba?
That must be a nice warm spot! I love it, but I am amazed at how many views some of these videos get. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLt5rBfNucc
Have you thought about full blown "terminator"/synthetic-type robots to make? Or is it just mechanical? Like would you have a Terminator type human? And how far would you program it emotionally? For example getting hit in the nuts, or having kids, etc? Would you lean on real emotion/reality or a "perfect"-type bot
I tend to concentrate on commercially viable systems. I think we will get to the robots that you mention, but it will be based on success of the current generation and lots more research.
Hi, I am a student at Bedford High School, yes the same Bedford where iRobot is based at. I am part of the robotics class and I wanted to ask you, how did you come up with the Roomba? iRobot gave us one after they came in to talk to the students and I never got to ask them. We use it to clean the woodshop which is kinda funny, because now it looks almost white instead of black. Thanks!
We were building large commercial cleaning robots. It wasn't going well so the customer decided to have us make one with some "robotic function" instead of autonomous. One of our engineers said "we should be doing the simplest cleaning robot, not a large complex one first." iRobot gave him and a small team the go ahead to prototype this idea, and it worked. Lots more inventing and engineering was needed to bring it to market as a consumer product though.
Is your research partly financed by the DOD or military equipment makers ? If yes how do you feel about it as an academic ?
I am an entrepreneur not an academic! I have delivered thousands of robots to the military and they are credited with saving the lives of hundreds of soldiers and thousands of civilians. I am very proud of the work I have done and continue to do for the military.