Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 09: iRobot Roomba, “Most Hackable Gadget”

Robotics Technology
Makey Awards 2011 Nominee 09: iRobot Roomba, “Most Hackable Gadget”

Founded in 1990 by a trio of MIT alums, iRobot’s first big break came in 1998 with a DARPA grant that lead to the development of their now-famous PackBot. The automatic vacuuming robot Roomba, the company’s flagship civilian product, was launched in 2002 and has become a resounding commercial success, with more than six million units sold to date.

Each Roomba includes a Mini-DIN connector for a TTL serial interface used for programming at the factory. This connection is incompatible with standard PC/Mac serial protocols, but inexpensive aftermarket adapters quickly appeared providing Bluetooth, USB, and RS232 interfaces.

iRobot courted the growing hacker community from the beginning, openly publishing the Roomba serial command interface protocol and, in 2007, releasing the iRobot Create. The Create is a Roomba-style mobile platform with an empty cargo bay in place of the vacuuming components, designed and manufactured solely to cater to the hobby robotics market. The Create also provides a greatly expanded 25-pin interface that allows for bidirectional analog and digital communication with attached devices.

The Roomba/Create family has gone beyond “hackable” to become a versatile, respected, and ubiquitous development platform for new robots and robot applications. Entire books have been written about Roomba-based bots and Roomba hacking. The company started with a hacker-friendly design, and actively courted and catered to the Roomba-hacking community as it developed. That’s exactly the kind of thing we like to see, and exactly the reason that iRobot is our latest nominee for the 2011 Makeys. Congratulations, ladies and gents!


If you have a suggestion for a company to be nominated for “Most Hackable Gadget,” or one of the other three 2011 Makey awards, please send an e-mail to or just leave a comment, below.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

View more articles by Sean Michael Ragan


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