Roomba Vacuum

A household robot that works

It finally happened, an off-the-shelf household robot that works and pays back even the early-adopter price.

For less than $200 you get a vacuum cleaner the size of coffee-table book (though round) which has robotic smarts and its own battery. The main thing is, it works. It cleans rooms.

What makes it work is the combination of clever robot design AND clever vacuum cleaner design. Its job as a robot is to cover an entire room and not get trapped somewhere or wander off where it’s not wanted. The first time you use it, you watch with fascination as the Roomba goes through its repetoire of exploration (spiral till a wall is encountered, then scrub along keeping the wall on the right, etc.) and avoidance of trouble (detect drop-offs and deflect; when blocked, keep rotating and trying again; etc.) It will happily go places that most vacuums don’t, like under beds. For keeping it from openings into other rooms or from entangling wires or such, the Roomba comes with a separate device which puts out a keep-away beam up to 13 feet.

It does not mix well with pets or little kids, who torment it. It is perfect for bachelors of either sex who put off vacuuming chores for months (like I do in my office and storage container). Plugged into a wall socket for battery charge, the Roomba is always ready to grind away diligently in a room. Weekly, daily, who cares? After the first time, you’ll leave it to work alone, or you’ll find yourself giving it advice, which it does not need.

-- Stewart Brand 09/24/06

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