Maker Birthdays: Rodney Brooks

Maker Birthdays: Rodney Brooks


Rodney Brooks (born December 30, 1954, in Adelaide, Australia) has had an impact on robotics and AI matched by few. And there is probably no one who’s had a bigger impact on viable commercial robotics. In the 1970s, when everybody else was obsessed with complex AI-driven, map-building robots, Brooks shocked the AI community by creating bug-brained walking robots that had little computational power and built no maps of their world. They were solely sense-act. This approach led to behavior-based robotics and influenced other bottom-up robotic design approaches, such as Mark Tilden’s BEAM robotics. And these simple bottom-up bot architectures gave birth to such commercial successes as Brooks’ own iRobot and the Roomba line and WowWee’s/Tilden’s Robosapiens.

Brooks’ unconventional approach to solving design problems can also be seen in what could be dubbed the “Brooks Design Heuristic.” It basically involves figuring out, in a design problem, what are the assumptions that are so taken for granted that they’ve become invisible to those attempting to solve the problem. Then explore those. For instance, in trying to find collision-free paths for industrial robots, everyone was focusing on the “stuff,” the things that could possibly be collided with. Brooks decided to focus on where the stuff wasn’t. This turned out to be much easier to design collision-free for.

Brooks currently serves as Panasonic Professor of Robotics at MIT. He is also the CTO and boardmember of iRobot Corp.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).