Robots have been in sci-fi movies for many decades, but the person with her sheer determination who brings them into reality is none other than the AI expert Helen Greiner.
Also known as the Robot Queen, Helen is now inspiring other women aspiring to have a career in the STEM field to realize their dreams.
Born on 6 December 1967 in London, Helen Greiner was the lovely child of her parents; While her father was a Hungarian refugee, her mother was a Londoner.
Helen’s family shifted to the United States in 1972. She spent her childhood days in the densely populated Long Island in the New York State.
From the very beginning, Helen was a curious child, always jealous of her elder brother’s radio-controlled cars.
When the family brought the first PC from Radio Shack, Helen was quick to claim it as her own and soon started to use it to control her brother’s toys!
However, it was not until she watched the movie Star Wars when she was barely 11 that she became fascinated with R2-D2, a robot whose plan was to save the universe.
Later, when she learned that it was a human wearing a plastic costume, she was shattered.
Unexpectedly, she vowed to build her own robot. Her parents never expected that a vow that sounds childish will became a defining moment of her life.
To fulfill her vow, Helen attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She chose it as it was the best to study science and technology that she wants to study to build her own robot.
At MIT, Helen also got a chance to study artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, she also worked at the AI Laboratory of MIT.
At that time, it was headed by Rodney Brooks. At MIT, Helen also came across Colin Angle. Both Rodney Brooks and Colin Angle became her friends because of the shared devotion to robotic science and snowboarding.
Helen completed her Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering in 1985 and then spent some time in California at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA, where she worked as an intern.
At NASA, she helped in designing robots to do repair work in space.
Helen became so engrossed in her work that she finally designed a robot that can easily grasp objects.
Next, she opted for a Master’s Degree in computer science from MIT and earned the same in 1990.
In 2009, Helen was honored with a Doctorate Degree by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and in 2017 by the Clarkson University.
After completing her master’s degree from MIT, Helen, cofounded IS Robotics in California along with Rodney Brooks and Colin Angle in 1990.
The company had its headquarters in Bedford, a suburb of Boston city.
They financed their business with the help of bank loans and credit cards.
Along with other co-founders of the company, she worked for more than 18 hours a day to build robots for university researchers.
Helen secured more than $30 million capital to finance her company and ultimately created the Government & Industrial Robots division in her company.
The biggest opportunity that she grabbed was in 1993 when the US Department of Defense gave the contract of designing an underwater minesweeper.
The company, later on, was renamed as iRobot.
Soon, Helen’s small company witness exponential growth, and several branches were started in Milford, San Luis Obispo, New Hampshire, etc.
It has successfully delivered over 5,000 robots for both government and industrial sectors. It may seem unbelievable, but Helen also helped design a robot named Scooba that can wash the floor!
Helen’s company built PackBots that found application in the rescue effort aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
They were also used for the disposal of bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The robotic vacuum cleaner that you see today also owes its existence to Helen Greiner. She was one of the three people who designed the first version of the robotic vacuum cleaner named Roomba.
In 1994, she became the President of the company iRobot and served that position up to 2004.
For the next four years, she served the company as the Chairman of the Board. She also served MIT and Boston Museum of Science as a Trustee from 2007 to 2013 and from 2008 to till-date.
Helen also served Army Science Board (ASB) from 2007 to 2013. In 2014, she was named a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by President Obama.
In November 2008, Helen founded another company CyPhy Works. a drone company that manufactured robust drones that can fly for long hours and even weeks autonomously.
The drones manufactured at CyPhy Works are even deployed in other countries to save lives at war zones.
In the same year, she also became the President and a Board Member of the Robotics Technology Consortium. Helen served as the CEO of CyPhy Works till 2016.
The company was eventually sold to FLIR Systems in September 2019. After one year of founding CyPhy Works, Helen joined the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) as a board member.
In 2020, Helen became the CEO and Chairperson of Tertill.
The flagship product of this company was Tertill with which, she brings the disruptive technology of robotics in the gardening industry. Her garden weeding robot became instantly popular.
Awards and Recognitions
2002-Named an innovator for the next century
2003-Featured in the Fortune Magazine’s list of the top 10 innovators under 40 in the United States
2005- Small Business Icon by Accenture
2006-Pioneer award from AUVSI
2008-Women of vision award by the Anita Borg Institute
2014- DEMO God Award
2018- Woman of the year by the Wentworth Institute of Technology
Apart from the above awards and recognitions, Helen was also inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame.
Her vision is that robots can be used in homes and for doing dangerous tasks in the military that sets her apart from her contemporaries.
Today, robots are used in manufacturing, packing, space exploration, IED disposal, surgery, fire fighting, home maintenance, and much more!
So, next time when you are enjoying a ride in a self-driving car or relaxing on a couch while the robot is cleaning is your floor, do think about Helen Greiner!