- Materials & Industrial Technology
A Hard Day
Coming home from a hard day at the office, you sigh wearily as you plop your bag on the couch and eagerly remove hot shoes from sore feet. The cubicle dweller next to you was on the phone all day, making mostly personal calls. It took a headache's worth of effort to stay focused. Right before lunch, the team project manager came up to you to ask why you hadn't turned in the budget proposal that was due Monday. ("Didn't you get the memo?"). To add aggravation to the unexpected setback, the copy machine has been on the fritz all day and the three times you tried to use it, all you could see was the repairman's rear end hanging out of his pants, forcing you to subdue your gag reflex as quietly as possible. The last thing you are looking forward to doing that evening is vacuuming the apartment. Luckily, there is a solution.
Walking over to a discreet corner in your apartment behind the fake tree, you bend down and press a button on the flat disc plugged into the wall charger. Immediately the little robot whines to life and trundles from its port and starts making erratic rounds around the apartment. It reaches a soiled area where one of your real potted plants deposited some soil when you moved it last night, and proceeds to not only suck up the obvious dirt you can see, but runs back and forth over the area, completely eliminating any trace of loose dirt before moving underneath the coffee table an ordinary vacuum could never reach.
Diversity and Robot Cousins
There are a few different versions of robot vacuum available to the public, but the most common seems to be the iRobot Roomba. iRobot also manufactures the PackBot Tactical Mobile Robot which is used by the military for Explosive Ordinance Disposal and has been credited with saving the lives of more than a few military servicemen.
The Roomba has at least one rival by Electrolux which sells the Trilobite, which actually maps the area it's supposed to clean. Even though the Roomba does not memorize its cleaning area, it is designed to act more like an insect and bumps into walls and objects and adjusts its heading accordingly. It also does something the Trilobite cannot: it follows walls as it vacuums whereas the Trilobite leaves a small space of un-vacuumed floor area between it and the wall. Both models are now capable of detecting stair drop offs and will turn to compensate instead of simply falling over.
While you shower, the industrious little vacuum glides over carpet and hard floor terrain such as hardwood or linoleum, transitioning easily from one to the other in its mission to pick up debris. It hesitates when it encounters a deep shadow in a hallway caused by lack of window lighting, no doubt due in part to the same technology that senses drop-offs like stair steps, but then attacks it again from another angle and dives into the dark, continuing with its duties as if it wasn't dark at all. It doesn't need light to perform. It gently bumps into walls and objects, backing up and moving around them, efficiently cleaning around chair legs and other square or round obstacles that ordinarily would be time consuming and difficult to accomplish with an ordinary household vacuum.
Better than Regular Floor Vacuums
You dry off, get dressed and start dinner. As you stand over the stove while stealing glances at the evening news on TV, you hear a plaintive electronic bleating from one of the rooms. You finish chopping the carrots and head over to investigate. The unhappy little robot has gotten itself caught in between the angled bed cabinet and the wall. This happens once in a while when the little machine approaches the corner the wrong way, but you like the table at that angle and decide its worth the effort to rescue your vacuum once in a while. You shake your head at the critter and lightly scold him as you pull him out and set him down facing the other way. It beeps happily and continues working, scooting between your feet nonchalantly, completely unashamed at its faux pas. The bothersome but humorous event reminds you of the days you actually had to vacuum by hand and decide it is no inconvenience at all to perform the rescue once in a while.
Beginning at one hundred and thirty dollars, the Roomba will exceed the expectations of any regular manned vacuum. The more you spend, the more features are included. of course, it's not perfect and in a way behaves like an animal. At the manufacturer's website, the "How it Works" section displays a time lapse video of a floor cleaning, and shows the Roomba covering some areas of the floor multiple times while ignoring a few tiny areas before going back to its charging port. Yet it covers probably 99% of the floor, reaching areas no ordinary vacuum could. For this ingenious invention, you get the bang for your buck.
I Walked to School in Six Feet of Snow, Uphill, Both Ways
The robot finished its chores while you prepared dinner, and you quickly empty its dust bin before eating. You feel satisfied that another chore is done and you hardly had to lift a finger. In the near future, everyone will own one, and you will take it for granted, getting annoyed that you have to retrieve it from spaces it can't get out of, and dreading the drudgery of cleaning out its waste bin every single time you make it work. Of course by then, a much more advanced version will have replaced it, using more intelligent software to unstick itself from claustrophobic corners and empty its own bin after every cleaning. This is when you tell your kids about the old days when you actually had to pull out a heavy clunky vacuum cleaner, three times the size of a car, (which will be the size of a motorcycle by that time), and vacuum the floor by hand, (gasp). By that time it will hopefully do your laundry too.
A Sensible Machine with a Future
Yes, the future is here today, as you long as you have the cash to cover it, (a Roomba can cost anywhere from 130 up to 550 dollars depending on the features you want). Considering cheap vacuums can cost around 50 dollars with an average price ranging from 100 to 400 dollars, the Roomba is already attractively priced since it is almost completely automated. Unfortunately, there has yet to be a version that can clean the stairs and deal with deep pile carpet. That day is coming, but even if I ever have a house with stairs, my next new vacuum will be a robot vacuum, probably the well known Roomba.
A Cleanmate Robot Vacuum in Action
Different Manufacturers - Same Concept
- iRobot: Shop the iRobot Store to buy a home robot that tackles dirty jobs so you don't have to. Find
iRobot® Roomba®, Scooba®, Dirt Dog, Verro and Looj tackle dirty jobs so you don't have to. These home robots are the smarter way to vacuum and wash floors, sweep the workshop and garage, deep clean pools and blast gutters clean. Shop the iRobot Store
- Trilobite 2.0
The Electrolux DesignLab competition.