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Why Robots Like Roomba Drink Pepsi

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Why Robots Like Roomba Drink Pepsi-colin_roomba.jpg
Colin’s Roomba tidies up our studio.

While we were already pretty excited about interviewing iRobot founder Colin Angle, our enthusiasm soared even higher when he arrived at our studio with a Roomba. You see, we people of SLoS are notoriously poor housekeepers, and our floors are always dirty. (We choose to regard this as an inevitable byproduct of being “artists.”) Colin’s little vacuum-cleaning robot saved the day for us, zigging and zagging around our studio, sucking up tons of dirt, and leaving us all feeling minty fresh. And while the focus of Colin’s “Big Inventions” video is on his space-bound robots, the Roomba is his invention that almost everyone knows about—his company’s sold more than three million of them (which makes us think there must be a lot of “artists” out there).

But here’s the thing—the Roomba wasn’t always the Roomba. Or at least, it wasn’t always the semi-ubiquitous cleaning dynamo it’s now become. Colin explained to us that soon after the initial sales success of the Roomba, things were actually looking pretty bleak for the Roomba and for his company…

“It was the week after Thanksgiving and sales were very disappointing—and we were still a pretty fragile company financially. It was a stressful time. We would get together every morning and [one day] the guy who ran direct sales raised his hand and said, ‘Hey guys, why did sales triple yesterday?’ Well, we didn’t know why. We hadn’t done any ads, there was no newspaper article about us, and we hadn’t been on ‘Oprah’—but sales had somehow tripled. And one of our engineers raised his hand and said, ‘Well, you know, I saw this Pepsi commercial yesterday—maybe that was it.’”

Colin told us that even though the vacuum-cleaning robot that stole Dave Chappelle’s pants wasn’t a Roomba, “it did make robot vacuum cleaners real to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, and they went out and bought Roombas.” Sales shot through the roof from that day onward, Colin explained, and so a robotic vacuum-cleaning legend was born.

And that’s why robots like Roomba drink Pepsi.

Check out all of Colin’s videos and ask him lots of questions in the post below this one.