If you like the idea of a robot vacuum cleaner but think having to walk over to it to get it started is too much work, the creators of one of the most popular models are catering to your whims.
The Roomba 790 is the latest in the much-publicized range of robot cleaners. It’s got all the same features as the previous premium model (the 780) including automatic sensors to make sure it doesn’t fall down stairs and that it can completely clean one room before moving on to the next, and even an optical sensor that hunts down dirt patches.
The difference is that you no longer need to use a control panel on the device itself to start cleaning or set a program. Instead that’s now done by a remote control that uses radio frequency rather than infra-red, meaning you don’t need line of sight. That said, even if the device is within your eyeline, you can still be lazy: the remote allows you to change the movements of the cleaner mid-program, which presumably helps if you are glued to the TV but spot your child spilling a drink or a pet running through the lounge with dirty paws.
It’s an extra $100 to get the wireless feature; that seems like a lot, but presumably somebody who’s already prepared to pay $600 for the top-end model really does value not having to stand up. And hey, if you’ve had a good house party the night before and are feeling the effects, it might be kinda neat to be able to set it cleaning downstairs without having to get out of bed.
The company behind the Roomba, iRobot, does work on other projects that use the technology for more worthy causes then assisting the rich and lazy. It’s developing more traditional anthropomorphized robots (albeit with a display screen instead of a face) for medical use, one idea being that the robot can “do the rounds” of hospital wards, connecting each patient via videolink to a physician specializing in their condition, even if that physician isn’t based in the hospital.
iRobot has also just extended a deal with the US army and will supply a further 68 robots for an extra $12.7 million. The deal is for the iRobot 310 SUGV, which is a bit like a modern day Big Trak. As well as carrying out reconnaissance missions in places where human soldiers can’t reach safely, it can examine potential explosive devices and even clear a route. The robot is controlled by a video games style controller, which the company says reduces training time.
It’s also notable that the robot has the ability to climb stairs, which means that although the financials probably wouldn’t work right now, there may well be a day when apartment dwellers and house owners get equal benefit from the Roomba.