A robotic vacuum cleaner. It may seem like something out of a science fiction book. Some may be skeptical of its practicality and/or usefulness. I’m here to say that, believe it or not, the robotic vacuum cleaner is real, and it is the coolest piece of technology I’ve ever seen.
The Roomba, as it is called, is a fully functional, self-propelled vacuum cleaner. When I say self-propelled, I don’t just mean that it has powered wheels, but it is self-motivated as well. A fully automated system that vacuums as you are doing… well, whatever you want to do!
My mom got of one these contraptions for Christmas this year. The little round unit – that is about 4 inches tall and about a foot in diameter – makes up the vacuum itself, while it also comes with a base station / battery charger, a remote control, and a sensor to restrict the Roomba from entering a certain area. You open the box, plug in the base station, and set the Roomba on it, allowing the unit to charge, then, after about 2 hours, after the light is continuously green, you can start using the unit. This is where the fun begins.
When you either press a button on the Roomba or remote control, the Roomba immediately responds with a musical tone that corresponds to the function it is performing: either spot, clean, or max. Once it plays the tone, it backs up, and starts going. Like the energizer bunny, this thing goes, and goes, and goes.
The first setting, spot, cleans a small diameter of the room in a circular pattern. You set this when you have a large concentration of dirt in a single area.
The second setting, clean, does a quick pass over cleanable area – that is to say, everything that is in between walls. It will speed along and pick up quite a bit of dirt on the way through.
The third and final setting, max, is really cool. It will start in a circular pattern and thoroughly clean every aspect of the room. This setting is slower than clean, but does a much more complete job.
One might say, well, how does the robot know where to go? It has a plastic bumper on the front of it, and when it runs into objects, it turns until it can move again. While doing this, it computes an approximate map of your room layout – where objects are, and where it has cleaned. So, your tables, chairs, desks, everything will show up on the Roomba’s virtual map.
The little sensor that goes with the package uses an infrared beam to tell the Roomba where not to go. It’s a really neat feature – almost like an invisible wall that the robot runs into.
When either the robot’s battery gets low, or it gets done cleaning, it homes to the base station, does an infrared approach pattern, and docks with the base.
To common technophobes – this might worry you. My dad wasn’t exactly ready to go off and leave it running while we were gone. Simply put, this little robot has such an advanced AI interface, it can handle just about anything that the room throws at it. To those of us who embrace technology, it is a lifesaver!
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