Testing 1-2-3 Testing 1-2-3 Roomba

| Thursday, 24 September 2009 14:00

ThumbnailtestinseptI remember watching an episode of The Jetsons in 1987 and getting really psyched for the future of mankind. Sure, there didn’t seem to be any actual ground to walk on, and every building was propped up on giant poles that descended into an abyss of nothingness, but the kids went to school in hovering pods, there were robots everywhere and people traveled around in big, clear tubes. Tubes! Twenty-two years later and I haven’t seen a single flying car. I saw a walking humanoid robot fall down some stairs on Youtube once, but that was it. While we may still be a few years away from the awesome future I was promised by Hanna-Barbera, it’s nice to see that at least one company is making robots to clean up after me.

Meet the Roomba, he wants to vacuum your rug.

For those of you that don’t know, the Roomba, created by iRobot, is a robotic, disc-shaped vacuum cleaner designed to clean your floors while you kick back and celebrate your humanity. Cool, right? But the burning question then becomes: Does it actually work? We recently had the pleasure of watching one of these little troopers in action, so here’s the scoop.

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The first thing that should be noted is that the Roomba’s vacuum works just fine. Its compact design allows it to clean easily along walls and under furniture. If it encounters crumbs, hair or dirt, it will pick them all up without incident. But then, so will most vacuums. The real question with the Roomba is, can a machine operating without a human guide do a satisfactory job of cleaning your floor, while navigating the obstacles in a given room? The answer is, sometimes.

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The Roomba operates on something the manufacturers call the AWARE system. It consists of infrared sensors that direct the robot towards the dirtiest parts of a room so it can get to business. The Roomba can also make out changes in terrain and prevent itself from falling off ledges and down staircases, which, to be fair, is more than we can say for most drunks we’ve observed in life.

It also utilizes a series of tones to communicate with you, mostly when it’s stuck or in some sort of peril. As cute as the bleeps and bloops are, we can’t help but wish iRobot had employed some celebrity voice work into their product, so that when the Roomba said, “My side brush is stalled,” it said it as Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones, thereby commanding our immediate assistance.

After watching the Roomba try to clean a fairly complicated room for about fifteen minutes, two things became apparent: 1) The Roomba does not always know what it is doing. 2) The Roomba really, really wants to do its job and do it well.

When coming into contact with a wall or table leg, the Roomba stops, turns in another direction and heads back out. Only it doesn’t always turn in the right direction, and often, it turns in the opposite direction from the dirt. The Roomba thrives in uncluttered spaces, and seems to adopt a strategy for a short while before soon finding itself bouncing back and forth under a footstool once again. Because of this, the Roomba hovers between having the semblance of an intelligent, determined robot, systematically cleaning your floor, and a person who’s been whacked in the head with a bat and then handed a vacuum cleaner as they stumble around the room.

One does get the impression that if given the run of an area for a long enough period of time, the Roomba would get most of the job done. Not to mention that it’s undeniably entertaining to go about your day as a tiny circular robot beeps and buzzes around your house with a life of its own.

Whether or not this product is for you ultimately depends on the type of person you are.

If it’s crucial to your happiness that every square inch of a room is clean and accounted for, then you should probably just grab your boring, inanimate Hoover and get to work. On the other hand, if you have a love for gadgets and aren’t a perfectionist, you’ll probably get a big kick out of the Roomba as it vacuums your floor with or without you around.

Photos By – Kristin Johnston

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