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ROOMBA Test Drive.
ROOMBA is the first household vacuum robot
 


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ROOMBA Test Drive . . .

          For a brief time, we owned a ROOMBA. My wife and I were intrigued by the promise of not having to push around a vacuum anymore. Perhaps, even let the robot vacuum the house while we sleep! And for less than $200, it seemed worth a look . . .

         So, we bought one. . .

          ROOMBA is a carpet-sweeping robot. A lowly janitor with a Ph.D. background. ROOMBA's genealogical roots trace back to the AI (Artificial Intelligence) Lab at MIT. ROOMBA's ancestors were experimental path-finding programs written to enable military robots to clear minefields by means of a a logical - though random - formula to completely cover a minefield at least once. Duplicate sweeps of the same area were allowed as long as the entire area eventually was surveyed.

roomba01.jpg - 4220 Bytes         IRobot, a Somerville, Massachusetts company, markets ROOMBA, a little round household robot that resembles one of those space-saving spare tires. Push a button on top of ROOMBA, and it acknowledges with a playful 'Charge' tune. Then, it goes to work.

          ROOMBA can't see and has about 256 megs of intelligence, so it cleans by formula. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, it starts its journey by following a tight spiral pattern. "Follow the yellow brick road." "Follow the yellow brick road". And, just like Dorothy, after about three ever-widening spirals in the center of the room, ROOMBA takes off on a tangent - a straight run for whatever is out there to discover.

          When it finds a wall or a piece of furniture, it follows around the perimeter. ROOMBA's front bumper feels obstructions and changes direction momentarily - but, then, the program takes over and the original course is attempted again. If the obstruction remains ( such as a wall ), the repeating formula results in ROOMBA following the wall to the corner.

          And finally, when ROOMBA calculates that it has vacuumed every square inch of the floor it was assigned to do ( at least once !) , it chirps a happy 'done' song and turns itself off.

          I bought my ROOMBA recently on eBay. My wife and I were intrigued by the promise of not having to push around a vacuum anymore. We have two cats and a dog so there is usually always some hair on the carpet somewhere. When we received our new ROOMBA, we vacuumed the living room carpet with our Hoover WindTunnel Upright Vacuum Cleaner. Then we turned the ROOMBA loose. After the ROOMBA beeped that it was done, we emptied the filter canister. I was amazed at all the dirt and hair ROOMBA picked up off of a "clean Carpet" !

          But we only used ROOMBA once.

          Our house does not have baseboards. The walls go all the way to the carpet. ROOMBA frequently follows the walls as it makes its way around a room. We noticed tiny marks in the paint after ROOMBA had passed by. We were concerned that, with continued use, ROOMBA would leave a track in the drywall. That shouldn't be a problem if your house has baseboards.

          But we decided to sell our almost-new ROOMBA on eBay . . .

          Don't assume you can let ROOMBA vacuum while you sleep ( like I did) . ROOMBA makes quite a bit of noise. A content ROOMBA makes a whirring noise similar to a paper shredder and it bumps into things as it works. So, if you can sleep through WHIRRR BANG WHIRRR BANG WHIRRR BUMP WHIRRR BOOM WHIRRR, Turn ROOMBA loose at night. Otherwise, I would suggest to let ROOMBA do it's chores when you are out of the house.

          Quoting the box: "ROOMBA is the first automatic vacuum available in the USA, using intelligent navigation technology to automatically clean nearly all household floor surfaces without human direction. Easy to operate: Just press a button and then walk away. While you do other things ROOMBA meticulously cleans in an ongoing spiral motion most common floor surfaces such as linoleum, carpet, wood and tile, while the side brush thoroughly cleans next to walls and tough-to-reach spots. A virtual wall unit blocks open doorways up to 20-ft. wide keeping ROOMBA in the room you want cleaned. It automatically avoids falling down stairs and is safe to use around children and pets. Features automatic shut-off when finished or picked up by its easy-to-grab handle."

          All things considered, I think ROOMBA is a great product. ROOMBA convinces me that the future will be filled with affordable household robots. ROOMBA really did everything the hype said it would do. I will buy another ROOMBA as soon as the manufacturer figures out a way to make it more gentle on my walls...or if I ever install baseboards in my house!

Doc

2004.02.12






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