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Roomba co-Inventors Shift Focus to Cleaning Up Commercial Growing
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Feb 19, 2009

Joe Jones, co-inventor of the Roomba vacuum cleaning robot

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Joe Jones likes to build practical robots… the type of robot that can do enough on their own to more than make up for their cost. His best known example is the first widely adopted consumer robot, the two-million-selling iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, which Joe, along with co-inventor Paul Sandin, developed while working at iRobot.

Jones is also the author of three books, including, Mobile Robots: Inspiration to Implementation.

He graduated from MIT, served for nine years as a research engineer at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab and worked as senior roboticist at iRobot Corp. for nearly 15 years, before both he and Sandin left in 2006 to found a company dedicated to the next great thing in robotics. Launched as QRobotics, the Groton, Mass.-based company has since been renamed Harvest Automation, Inc. and is working on ways to automate the labor-intensive process of growing commercial potted plants.

Jones, a 24-year veteran of the robotics business and holder of nine domestic and several foreign patents, Joe Jones is currently chief technology officer of Harvest Automation, whose brain trust includes not only Sandin and Jones, but iRobot alumni Charles Grinnell and Clara Vu. Jones agreed to discuss the venture recently with Robotics Trends Contributing Editor John P. Desmond

Robotics Trends (RT): What is the backstory on the founding of Harvest Automation?

Joe Jones (JJ): iRobot was a great place to work; it was fun working on Roomba and developing all that stuff. But, I am an inventor. I am always looking for the next thing.

When a company becomes publicly traded, which iRobot was after Roomba became successful, Wall Street wants you to keep putting money into the things that have already been successful. I was interested in branching out and finding new applications for robots, because I thought that while consumer floor care was a wonderful market, for me the question was what do you do next?

My thinking was that there are probably a lot of niches out there where a robot would fit perfectly, but you have to find them and they might not be related to consumer products. So we founded a new company to search far and wide to find the next place where robots would fit. That is the reason we founded QRobotics, just before Thanksgiving in 2006.

When we founded QRobotics, we did not know what the next application would be. We spent a few months looking for an application that would be suitable for robots. Once we found that, we thought the best thing to do would be to transform into the company that would exploit the application we found. So we became Harvest Automation in 2008.

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