The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – August 20

On August 20, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

eagle_webEagle Feathers #59 – Two Guys, A Girl and iRobot

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

The inspiration and genius of Thomas Edison is still alive and well. The first recording of words capturing sound so that you can hear yesterday’s words today was accomplished by Edison. He held over 1,200 American patents in his lifetime.

Edison’s first two inventions were created at 109 Court Street in Boston in the electrical shop of Charles Williams of Somerville. Williams’ business was the early engineering of municipal fire telegraph alarms. Edison’s most famous invention was the incandescent lamp, which captured light for mankind. Many agree that his next most important invention was his 1877 phonograph. This invention was the first to capture the “voice of mankind.” This led to the motion picture camera of today. Edison’s first recorded words were, “Mary had a little lamb.” The subject of this poem was Mary Tyler, a Somerville resident for over 35 years. In 1877, Edison was also credited with the world’s first robotic talking doll. His dolls would sing a variety of nursery songs.

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Today, after the relative dormancy of well over a century, robotics engineering is exploding. In the 1990’s, two guys (Rodney Brooks and Colin Angle), a girl (Helen Greiner), and a robot – or should I say “iRobot” – arrived in Davis Square from M.I.T. and started a company. Their first commercial product was an astronomical improvement over Edison’s doll and was called, My Real Baby. This amazing robotic doll was high on the 1998 Christmas list. It could crawl, walk, talk, grow, and looked and felt real. It recited the alphabet, numbers and rhymes. It crawled and walked and changed facially with age. Like the toy robot changed with age, the company’s products also changed.

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Maybe when My Real Baby grew up she hated to clean, because iRobot then invented the highly successful Roomba robotic vacuum. Over ten million have been sold. To say they went a long way in a short time would be an understatement. In the last fifteen years, after moving to Bedford, MA, iRobot has transformed into a world-leader in home, defense, security, and commercial products. The company that was started by two guys and a girl has gone from dolls to drones since its Davis Square beginnings in 1998.

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That same year, less than one mile away up Holland Street at Teele Square and Broadway, another tale began to unravel. This story was about a different “two guys and a girl.” It involved a popular television sitcom series. Its creator was a former Tufts University student, Kenny Schwartz, who worked at Theo’s Pizza in Teele Square while in school. After college, he became a successful Hollywood creator and director. His hit show was based on his Theo’s memories and experiences. The show produced 81 episodes and lasted four seasons. Have you guessed its title yet?

Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place.

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