Rodney Brooks took the stage at the 2016 edition of South by South West for an hour long interview. The founder of two world class robotics companies, iRobot and Rethink Robotics and emeritus professor at MIT, he had every right to feel satisfied at this late stage in his career. Yet the air of disappointment in the interview was unmistakeable. “Not much progress was made,” he says at around 35:15 into the video, with the air of Peter Fonda saying “We blew it”. Back in the 1980s Brooks started a revolution in robotics with something called the subsumption architecture, a revolution that has seemingly petered out. This is the story of that revolution, of the eccentrics behind it and whether they really failed, or created the future of robotics.

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