When I first caught a glimpse of the $200 Create 2, I thought iRobot was about to revolutionize the robot vacuum industry. Its most entry-level model, the Roomba 630, costs $350. That's affordable as far as these little automated cleaners go, but a $150 price slash would re-brand the traditionally high-end-skewed Roomba line as a much more well-rounded competitor.
The Create 2, however, is not a robot vacuum.
It's a Roomba shell made for students, particularly those involved in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as teachers and developers. Retaining the design, maneuverability and charging dock of iRobot's 600-series Roombas -- and scrapping all of those superfluous vacuum guts -- provides a uniquely accessible platform for enthusiasts of any age and skill level to try their hand at robotics programming.
In addition to the Create 2 unit itself, iRobot also provides instructional materials to help guide projects. That way, you have the resources you need to 3D print hardware components and safely drill holes in the bot for custom modifications. A cable is also included so you can easily send newly-programmed sounds, movements and other commands directly to the Create 2 from your computer.
While we haven't seen anything else quite like this education-focused bot, it definitely falls in line with other recent maker product announcements.lets you program smart features into a bunch of regular ol' GE appliances. The $80 makes it possible to schedule and power standard low-voltage devices like garage door openers and sprinkler systems directly from the WeMo app.
iRobot's Create 2, available now for $200, is decidedly less functional than the Green Bean Module or the Maker Kit, but it's precisely the sort of firsthand training that could help spark a lifelong interest in innovation.