Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Roomba Roomba Roomba

We still don't have power or gas which is too depressing and maddening to think about so today I want to talk about a bright spot in our life: Roomba.

Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner. Our Roomba, which we refer to simply as "Roomba", was my birthday gift from my father. It's something I never would have gotten for myself but now I have no idea how I ever lived without it.

Roomba is facinating to watch. It does a remarkably good job of cleaning the floors. It has very sophisticated robot intelligence in the area of working around a room to get into every part of it. It has very sophisticated algorithms that make it seem almost alive. I've posted two videos of Roomba in action on DailyMotion: part 1 and part 2. There are two parts because as I was filming, Roomba got stuck on the rug by the front door and I thought I would have to rescue it but, plucky robot that it is, it quickly freed itself, so I continued filming.

Besides being a facinating bit of technology, Roomba is handy in part because it can thoroughly clean a floor largely unattended while you're doing something else or out of the house or whatever. As long as you've not left any stringy things or cords in its way, it will either do its job to completion or, if it gets stuck somewhere and can't extricate itself, it will simply shut down and wait for rescue.

It has also had the interesting side effect of motivating us to keep the floor a bit more picked up than we might otherwise, because in order for it to work you've got to get the clutter off the floor: toys, old newpapers, socks, etc. This is a good thing.

The dogs don't seem to mind it--you can see from the videos that they coexist just fine with Roomba.

I cannot recommend Roomba enough--it is really a great tool and a remarkable feat of engineering. There are people who are totally Roomba obsessed, who own several, who hack them and mod them and all sorts of things and I think I understand why.

One of the cool things about Roomba from a geek perspective is that it provides an interface port and fully-documented programming API that lets you do anything you want with it. You can, for example hook up a laptop too it, mount the laptop on the Roomba itself, and, using wireless communication, turn Roomba into a general-purpose robotics platform. Very cool. I think there might some fruitfull father-daughter activities there somewhere.

So while we may not have hot water or clean clothes or a working sauna at least we have robotically clean floors. At least we have that....


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