Last week, the company announced the beta release of its iRobot Aware 2.0 Robot Intelligence Software. Significantly, this marks the first time iRobot has offered its software platform to third-party developers.
As with most open-source methods, there is an element of risk involved. It is possible that the developers who are invited to see and experiment with the software could seize the opportunity to learn more about the software platform, using it for their own ends without contributing anything in return to iRobot.
In my opinion, this risk is far outweighed by the immense opportunities the strategy promises. By opening up its software to developers, I believe it is more likely that these developers will become de facto researchers for iRobot and help create new capabilities for its robots.
For example, a developer with a keen interest in having robots perform dangerous or difficult underwater missions could hack the company's military robot, the PackBot, and upgrade it so it could perform its mission in the deep ocean.
To this end, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is among the beta testers, and its officials have publicly stated that they are excited about figuring out new ways to integrate different payloads and behaviors onto iRobot platforms.
And that, in a nutshell, is the opportunity for iRobot. If it can successfully tap into the immense intellectual and creative capital -- which exists around the world in government research facilities, academic labs, and throughout the broader business community -- robots should soon be learning how to perform an exciting array of new things in increasingly complex and dynamic real world situations.
To the extent that these hackers are successful, it will be good news for both iRobot and its investors, because it will mean that the firm's bots will become the base platform for these new capabilities.
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Fool contributorJack Uldrichisn't interested in hacking a robot at this time, but would be interested if someone successfully programs a robot to shovel snow. Jack lives in Minnesota and owns stock in iRobot. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.