I have been impressed with the Philips vacuum cleaner I’ve had for a couple of years now, but with great suction comes great responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility of cleaning out its ridged star-shaped filter which becomes so densely packed with fine dust that the brush-based cleaning process can easily turn the surrounding area into something resembling an eerie grey-coated post-apocalyptic set. After nearly coughing up a lung last time, it’s fair to say I was questioning the sanity of this system. A few days later I finally decided that I do, in fact, live in the future. Accordingly, I was able to justify a purchase I had been toying with for some time: my first robot.
My long-standing desire for one of iRobot‘s Roombas was partly as an automated cleaning drone and partly as a pet (albeit one that picks up hair rather than shedding it). Because who doesn’t like watching TV and occasionally lifting their feet as their loveable friend scampers past? My disappointment was palpable when Sony cancelled production of the AIBO, its expensive robot dog aimed (one presumed) at Japanese executives, just before I started a job in which I could afford one. While they are still around, I suspect maintenance costs will soon become more astronomical that vetinary bills. Science fiction has long wondered whether humans will be able to accept robots into their lives but I think it’s simply a question of how young the concept is introduced as Japan is showing. As an avid sci-fi reader when a child, I am not only comfortable with the concept; I welcome it.
I ordered the latest Roomba 581 model which arrived within a few days. Selecting a name was a difficult process until I glanced across my film shelf and something caught my eye: Léon. The professional hitman euphemistically refers to his job as a “cleaner”, which seemed perfect. Yes, that’s how my mind works. After briefly consulting with the Internet, the name stuck. Léon has been great so far, aside from occasional navigation hiccup since our floors are not quite as uncluttered as would be ideal. However I have not yet set up the included system of virtual walls to assist with navigation between rooms. For those still confused about how the task can be automated: the Roomba has a front-mounted sensor so as it approaches any surface it slows and bumps gently against it before reorientating itself and continuing. Its pattern algorithm is designed to cover the same area a few times in a cleaning cycle. For a localised spillage, the spot cleaning function will cause it to spiral out and back in again in a one metre circle. So after a week I am not experienceing the buyer’s remorse I feared may follow and am thoroughly enjoying my new pet/robot. And I haven’t even started hacking it yet…
Also, since all insufferable new pet owners seem to do it, a collection of obligatory new pet photos seemed appropriate: