The Pet that Eats Dirt

Or, alternately, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let the Robot Vacuum.”

Unpacking is an unpleasant but rewarding business. I rediscovered a great deal of real estate last night after clearing away boxes, and laying down the six by nine carpet. With the recliner and coffee table in place, it looks like an actual living space, rather than a storage area for boxes. After laying down on the carpet for a few minutes, I realized that I had to vacuum. The carpet had been rolled up against the wall for months now, and I wasn’t sure if I vacuumed it before I rolled it up.

It was then that I remembered that I received a Roomba Discovery for Christmas. It was from Julie, who knows my predilection towards items that are achingly expensive, shiny, and of a gadgetological origin. In about ten minutes, I installed the battery, and placed it on the charging station. Roomba’s charge cycle is three hours, but it was late, so I went to bed. I left Roomba in its base station, power button pulsing with orange light to the rhythm of a Jarvik heartbeat.

This morning, whilst drinking my morning tea, I let it loose upon my apartment. The light was green. I picked up a few loose bits here and there, placed Roomba on the carpet, and pressed the “clean” button.

The novelty factor of the Roomba is undeniable. Roomba sounds like a high powered RC car, but moves like a tank. The way it navigates is via collision detection, so it “feels” its way around the apartment. It bumps into everything, and adjusts its direction after it hits something. I almost felt sorry for it. After watching it for about half a cup, I began to see that although it was “blind,” it certainly wasn’t “dumb.” It would follow a wall, making sure to vacuum the edges. It could find its way out of corners, head for directions that haven’t been vacuumed yet. There were times when I thought it was going to get stuck, and seemed to, but it eventually found its way out.

I didn’t let Roomba vaccuum for the entirety of its cycle, but it did cover a good bit of my apartment. It even maneuvered its way into my bedroom hallway and back out without incident. I picked it up, Roomba beeped and flashed amber, which meant, “Hey! I’m not done yet!” (In the manual, they say that this means, “Mission Abandoned.” For a moment, I imagined a talking Roomba, which sounded like a female Dalek. Yeah, I’m not sure how you tell them apart, either.) I put it down in front of the base station and hit “Spot” and “Clean” at the same time, which sends it back to the charging station. It then turned itself completely around (I had it facing the wrong way) and performed what I can only describe as a “docking maneuver” with the charging station.

Blue Danube was playing. I nearly cried.

But does it really work? The amount of dirt that I cleared from the dustbin seems to indicate that it does. The carpet looks better than when I first unrolled it, and I all I did was I was put this robot in the middle of the floor and press “Clean.”

Did I mention that it was entertaining to watch?

It’s not completely fire and forget though, it’s almost like owning a pet. You have to keep floors relatively clear of things that you don’t want it to “eat.” It may try to get underfoot if you’re doing something at the same time that it’s playing on the carpet. It hasn’t messed anything yet, but I’ll keep an eye out.

Roomba came with two virtual walls, but my condo, I don’t foresee using them. Besides, why use a virtual wall when I can just build one out of boxes?

Now, if only they’d make a robot that does laundry. I hate laundry.