iRobot CEO Colin Angle in the Innovation Hub Studios.

Credit: Kinne Chapin / WGBH

Innovation Spotlight: Colin Angle

April 20, 2013

This week we're putting iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle in the innovation spotlight. See why he's not afraid of a little setback — in his own words.

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My name is Colin Angle. I’m the co-founder, chairman of the board, and CEO of iRobot Corporation.

I like to tell a story about my favorite Christmas card I ever received. It had a little boy standing on a chair dropping a piece of paper. And the caption was: Little Johnny has minutes of fun with a savings bond he got for Christmas ... This concept of minutes of fun, I think is an important concept. I can make a great, amazingly cool demo that’s minutes of fun … But if you actually have to use it as a professional tool, well it’s minutes of fun and those minutes have long gone by.

[So] one of my biggest failures was creating a remote presence robot, which was really cool, you could actually see what the robot was doing, but the view was limited, the sound quality was limited, the robot’s size was wrong, the connection to the wi-fi network was flaky, and so that when it worked, it was neat, but you would never want to sell it as a product because everyone would have ten minutes of, “Gee whiz,” and then it would go back in the box and would never serve a useful purpose again. 

One of iRobot's successful products — a defense robot called the PackBot.
Photo Credit: iRobot Corporation

As we’ve designed our current generation of remote presence robots, we look at, "Ok, who’s going to be using this? Ok, a doctor." So if the doctor is not excited by the experience, then we don’t have a product.

You know there was a song back a number of years ago, I think the band was Chumbawumba. And the refrain of the song was, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, ain’t nothing gonna hold me down,” or something like that.

I think that building robots for the last twenty three years, [with] the numbers of challenges and failures and missteps that I’ve been through — here we are today, still doing cool stuff, still excited to be inventing new robots … I think that if you looked at iRobot, and what we’ve been through that might be a fitting song to be playing in the background.

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