Your verification ID is: guDlT7MCuIOFFHSbB3jPFN5QLaQ Big Computing: Packbots are the Brain Child of a great guy

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Packbots are the Brain Child of a great guy

When I was a sophomore in college I could not find an apartment so a friend of mine let me stay in his apartment for most of the first term. The same guy helped me write a forecasting program that was my senior project two years later. He was a great guy who was always there. His name is Todd Pack. When I meet him the only thing he wanted to do was build robots. He spent much of his free time either writing code on his computer ( named "Bear") or building robots in the lab. It is what he loved to do.

Todd got his PhD out of Vanderbilt with a thesis on IMA, and took a job at iRobot. Yup, they make the Roomba vacuum cleaner. It is my understanding the reason the Roomba was created was because in the early 1990s there were no government contracts for robots so they needed a consumer product to survive.

I haven't seen or heard from Todd in a number of years. Then about a month a ago I went to a talk by Yann LeCun on vision and learning algorithms for robots. The videos of the robots reminded me of the work Todd Pack did in the labs back at Cornell all those years ago. Yesterday I read an article saying that the US was sending Robots to Japan to help out at the Fukaushima Nuclear Power Plant (article). It turns out the robots come from Dr Pack's company iRobot, and I am sure he had a hand in their design. I am so happy that Todd has created a career doing what he loves, and his work absolutely saves lives. I have my guess why they call them Packbots, but it is only a guess.

Now if we could only make robots that do not look like Johnny number 5.

Here is a recent video on MSNBC featuring the iRobot's Packbots.