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Rehumanize Yourself, iRobot!

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I work all day at the factory
I'm building a machine that's not for me
There must be a reason that I can't see
You've got to humanize yourself
-- The Police, "Rehumanize Yourself"

Say you own stock in a company with an innovative management team. Its lead product is a huge hit; everyone knows about it, and many people use it. But then the genius behind the lead product leaves. And worse: He leaves for a company that's similar to, but not directly competitive with, the company he co-founded.

Welcome to iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT  ) , Fool.

This week, company co-founder and chief technologist Dr. Rodney Brooks stepped aside to begin work on a new venture called Heartland Robotics. According to its website, "Heartland Robotics is combining the power of computers -- embodied in robots -- and the extraordinary intelligence of the American workforce, to rehumanize and revitalize manufacturing."

Notice the language. Does iRobot need to rehumanize itself, as rocker Sting might say? I'm not so sure. But there's no doubting that Brooks is a critical component of iRobot's team. From his bio page at the website:

Dr. Rodney Brooks is the principal architect of iRobot's innovative proprietary software technology. He is also the Panasonic Professor of Robotics at MIT and the former director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. [Emphasis added.]

For its part, iRobot says that Brooks will continue as a member of the board of directors and as chairman of a new technical advisory board.

Color me unimpressed. Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) co-founder Jeff Hawkins cut his schedule to part-time to follow a passion for brain research. The result? Foleo, a bomb of a product that, despite technical promise, was pulled because it didn't solve any major problems for smartphone users. Should we really expect Brooks to do any better?

Our 115,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community doesn't:



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Brooks's leaving likely won't make these middle-of-the-roaders feel better, just as investors groaned when EMC (NYSE: EMC  ) replaced VMWare (NYSE: VMW  ) co-founder Diane Greene.

However, Greene's replacement was former Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) executive Paul Maritz, who brings with him a deep understanding of how to beat Mr. Softy. The search for Brooks's replacement will begin in 2009.

Why the delay, iRobot? As smart as Brooks is, I doubt he's any smarter, or more talented, than Jeff Hawkins. Move faster; your company needn't be the next Palm.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Read more of Tim's Foolish writings. He also hunts for the best of tech as a contributor to Motley Fool Rule Breakers, which counts iRobot and VMware among its holdings. Try this market-beating service free for 30 days. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is a robot, in a software sort of way.

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