iRobot

In a bid to expand its educational offerings, iRobot has acquired local Massachusetts-based startup, Root Robotics. The company is the creator of the eponymous coding robot, a two-wheeled device designed to draw on whiteboards and other surfaces, scanning colors, playing music and otherwise playing out coding instructions. 

It had the company at our CES stage last year, and it managed to stand out among a sea of educational ‘bots at the event. iRobot clearly sees a lot of value in the Wyss Institute at Harvard University spin-off, and will integrate the startup’s offering into its portfolio immediately. 

“The acquisition of Root Robotics allows iRobot to broaden the impact of its STEM efforts with a commercially available, educational robotic platform already being used by educators, students and parents,” iRobot CEO Colin Angle said in a press release. “Root also helps increase the reach of iRobot’s educational robot line by offering a proven system for people of all ages, including students in elementary school.” 

STEM

iRobot’s no stranger to STEM education. The company has long offered the Create robot — a hackable version of its popular Roomba platform — for schools. The addition of Root creates a far more accessible place for students to start, along with a clever recruiting method for future iRobot roboticists and engineers. 

Root is currently available for $199. Details of the deal were not disclosed. 

Root is a two-wheeled mobile device that operates on flat surfaces, much like a Roomba. Users can program Root to draw, scan colors, respond to touch and sound, play music and more. In classrooms, Root can be programmed to climb magnetic whiteboards. It comes with three levels of code language, and it’s based on technology originally developed by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University. A single Root also costs dollar 199, and classroom packages of up to 30 robots sell for up to $6,000. 

iRobot doesn’t expect the acquisition of Root to impact its 2019 bottom line, but the company says it supports. Its plans to branch into educational STEM products and to make robotic technology. Accessible to educators, students and parents. iRobot has a solid track record. With Roomba, it became one of the first companies to successfully introduce also robots to homes, and if it’s successful, Root might find a similar appeal in classrooms. 

Prototype

Over the next three years the team iterated on Root’s prototype and began testing it in classrooms. In and around Boston, getting feedback from students and teachers to get the robot closer to its production-ready form. By 2016, they felt ready for commercialization. They ran a  campaign as a market test to see if they had. A viable consumer business, and raised nearly. $400,000 also from almost 2,000 backers, far exceeding their target of $250,000. Buoyed by this vote of confidence from potential customers, Dubrovsky. And Cherney left the Wyss Institute in the summer of 2017 to co-found Root Robotics. With Nagpal serving as scientific adviser, $2.5 million in seed funds, and a license from Harvard’s . 

While most of their time at the Wyss Institute was spent getting the robot right, the company focused. On getting the content of Root’s programming app up to par. Setting up a classroom in their office and also inviting students to come try out the robot. In September 2018 they shipped the first Root robots to their Kickstarter backers. And made it available on their website, and since then. More than a million coding projects have been run on the Root app.

Root

“What’s been most rewarding for me personally is seeing my kids take Root to their classrooms. And show their teachers and their peers what they’ve been able to make a robot do. Getting to see them problem-solve and iterate and then achieve something they’re proud of is priceless,” said Dubrovsky. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by seeing people. Come up with new things to do with the robot that we never thought of,” added Cherney. “The way it seems to immediately unlock creativity is beautiful and inspiring.” 

One of the things that really attracted us to Root was that it was designed as an education product from the ground up, which fits perfectly with our own deep passion for using robots as a way of turbo charging STEM education,” said Colin Angle, chairman and CEO of iRobot. “The Root robot has tremendous value as a tool for teaching students not only coding, but also concepts of AI, engineering and autonomous robots, all of which are very important for our future.” 

Nagpal is still sometimes floored by the fact that what started as an idea for a simple whiteboard-erasing robot ended up developing into such a powerful teaching tool. “Without the Wyss Institute, I would not have even thought to try and commercialize this idea,” she said. “It supported an amazing team of engineers in creating and testing Root over several years, which allowed us to be able to raise the funds to launch the company with a product that was so well-developed that it now has the potential to really scale up and make a big difference in the world.” 

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