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iRobot co-founder to step down

Rodney Brooks, who has served as CTO, is leaving to start new robotics company focused on industrial worker robots.

Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot iRobot

iRobot co-founder Rodney Brooks is leaving his post as chief technology officer to concentrate on a new robotics company.

"I want to effect a powerful evolution in the world's labor markets, and my current focus is to develop low-cost robots that will empower American workers," Brooks said in a statement on his Web site.

Brooks' new robotics venture is a Cambridge, Mass.-based company called Heartland Robotics, which will focus on industrial worker robots. The two companies will not compete directly, iRobot said Tuesday in a statement.

iRobot will begin looking for Brooks' replacement in 2009. Brooks will remain on iRobot's board of directors. He will also be chairman of a newly formed technical advisory board for the company, according to iRobot.

Brooks, a leading authority in the field of robotics, was the director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1997 to 2007. He is still a professor in the electrical engineering and computer science department at MIT.

Brooks co-founded iRobot in 1990 with two of his students, Helen Greiner, now chairman of iRobot, and Colin Angle, now iRobot's chief executive officer.

"Rod has been an integral part of iRobot over the years, playing a large role in the company's success. We are fortunate that he will continue to be a part of the company, lending his expertise and knowledge to our roadmap forward," Angle said in a statement.

The company's first product was the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, of which Brooks was a principle architect. Since then, then company has sold more than 3 million robots for the home and has supplied about 1,700 robots to the U.S. military, according to company statistics. On Monday, iRobot announced had it signed a contract to supply the U.S. Army with robots, parts, and services worth up to $200 million.

Brooks at his MIT office in 2007. Candace Lombardi/CNET Networks