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San Clemente Journal

Rendezvous with a Robot

May 05, 2005 03:08PM ● By Don Kindred
By Maggie Ziebak

Question: What’s red, very practical, waddles randomly around the room and beeps a saucy tune at you? 
Answer: The latest addition to our household – a Red Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.
    Welcome to the next generation of cleaners that range from the basic entry-level model to the more sophisticated Discovery SE that comes with a remote control. Yes gentlemen, you are going to love this – you too, can do housework that will pass close inspection.
    A short time ago I found myself the beneficiary of a modest bequest from my deceased auntie. Having never had any money that I hadn’t worked for, I decided that I would treat myself to something that I wouldn’t normally purchase. This would be total self-indulgence, a luxury item and an ally to wage war on the several thousand dust bunnies languishing under the bed and dresser. Even if it collected surface dirt in the kitchen I’d be happy, I thought, but never did I anticipate the ability of this little fellow.
    Fellow? I suppose I’d better sheepishly admit that this 13-inch round, over-sized Frisbee, mechanical device has a personality. He had a way of ingratiating his way into the good graces of the family unit, mainly because he’s cute. Once his battery was charged, the sleek, plastic cleaning tool was placed in the center of the room and activated. With it’s lights illuminated, he gave a joyful “dah-dah-dah-DAH”, turned around three times and was off to clean the room. Mesmerized by his antics, a lot of our time was spent reviewing his progress to see how well he was doing. We could have been doing something a little more constructive on our own - this is a time-saver, right?
    Amazingly, the robot maps, calculates and remembers the room through artificial intelligence (AI). Although the cleaning pattern appears erratic and random, it actually is finding an efficient way to tackle the baseboards and pays particular attention to dirty areas. It works best on wood floors and low-to-medium pile carpets, brushing and sucking up dust and debris into the dustbin that is easily emptied. It can cover 99% of the floor in a single cleaning cycle whereas upright and canister vacuums clean 80%. Who would have thought that vacuuming now consists of charge it up, press the button and set it free?
    The slogan at privately held iRobots, the manufacturer of Roombas, is “Robots for the Real World”. They also say, “We have big, innovative ideas and brilliant, mad scientists who make them work in a variety of applications”. When the founders left MIT in the early ‘90s, they continued to work on robots for the consumer and it is still the only robotic vacuum on the market. In the Government and Industrial division of the company, they engineer robots to perform jobs where people can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to. Used in caves and tunnels in Afghanistan, they help to make life safer for military personnel.
    Investors Business Daily commented, “The Roomba has a lot of smarts built in. It uses strategy to clean rooms with different behaviors for different room patterns. It has sensors for detecting dirt and cliff sensors for avoiding stairs. It can also figure out how to get around obstructions”.
    Without question, it is a novelty that everyone loves to demonstrate and show-off. Some little darlings even have names. From a practical standpoint it beats hauling a heavy vacuum cleaner from room to room and it is a boon to people suffering from physical disabilities. The Roomba is lightweight and portable so many owners, just take it to the work area, press start and shut the door. 
    Part of the package is a virtual wall that when activated prevents the Roomba from wandering aimlessly into other areas. Once he has finished his assignment or perhaps his battery is getting low, he can find his way, exhausted, into his docking station where he can be recharged in a matter of three hours.
    Initially, we worried about him getting stuck in a corner or under a kickboard, but this precious little genius detects when he is in trouble and initiates a preprogrammed escape routine. Like any tiny person he fills his bagless bin occasionally and needs to be cleaned up for optimum performance. After thoroughly cleaning up after pets (hair, kitty litter and birdseed) the Roomba may need the brushes or filter cleaned. Needless to say, interactions between vacuum and pet can be quite entertaining.
    Keeping your home as clean as it can be usually entails physical effort on your part. No more, freedom awaits you! Stock up on bon-bons to eat while you “work” and be ready to turn on the martyr act.
    You may be wondering how you can afford one of these little marvels and may be surprised that you need only spend the sunny side of $200 for the base model. Look for a 20% discount coupon at Linens n’ Things to make it more affordable. After all, not everyone gets to spend a legacy freely – thanks auntie. b