Helen Grenier, who created the Roomba and robots for industry and the military, is now building drones. They'll become "like appliances—the next generation of video camera,” she predicts.
Helen Greiner co-founded iRobot IRBT and co-designed the original Roomba, that weird little gizmo that roams a room and cleans your floor without needing you to lift a finger.
Now Greiner is taking her robotics expertise to the skies. As CEO of CyPhy Works, she runs a startup that makes small multi-rotor drones for consumer, commercial and military customers.
And what a world of difference it is today, raising money for drones vs. robots 25 years ago. “At iRobot, I had to practically kick down doors and say ‘Robots, robots, robots!,’” said Greiner in an interview Monday afternoon at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colorado.
A mechanical engineer who was at first inspired by R2-D2 in Star Wars, Greiner explained, “Now everyone wants drones.” Since launching CyPhy Works in 2008, Greiner has raised $13.5 million. “I wasn’t looking for money.” Instead of shopping for investors, they came to her.
“It’s a great time for entrepreneurs and new ideas,” she added.
Greiner has a vested interest in hawking her products, of course—and for the Fortune audience, she demonstrated CyPhy Works’ LVL drone, which she built after raising $900,000 via a Kickstarter campaign. That said, Greiner claims that there are practically unlimited applications for drones—including real estate, insurance claims adjustment, mining, agriculture, and delivery of consumer goods, which “will come in the next five years,” she predicted.
Drones will become “more like appliances—the next generation of video camera,” Greiner added. And the Federal Aviation Administration’s easing of regulations increases the opportunity for drone makers. While drone-flying by hobbyists has been legal for a long while, the FAA this year started granting exemptions for commercial use.
Dodging the question of whether she intends to take CyPhy Works public someday, Grenier made another prediction sure to please her private investors: “We’ll be a multibillion company in the drone space because the opportunity is that large.”
Watch more from this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech here: