There's a chapter in Trade-Off by Kevin Maney where he describes how iRobot's Roombas came to be and why they became such a success. It offers the thesis that there is a “trade-off between the fidelity of an experience and its convenience and it's more like the invention of a feature that gives an edge to an age-old product.”
Change, circumstance and ego all worked to build and then unwind America's first robot manufacturer is described in a soon to be published book: Pity the Pioneer: The Rise and Fall of Unimation. An excerpt is in Sept/Oct issue of Robot Magazine.
Is America now sitting out the race for the future of robotics? Read BusinessWeek's remarks about the clean energy sector and see the similarities.