Bee-boop: living with a Roomba

Wiirrrrrrrrr thunk
whhhiiirrrrr thunk
whiiirrrrr CLATTER thunk
Whiiiiirrrr thump thump thump
whiirrrrrrr thunk thunkthunkthunk

Anyone who has ever witnessed a Roomba in action knows this combination of sounds well.
At the moment, our only vacuum cleaner for our (entirely carpeted) apartment is a little Roomba we got for Christmas. It's one of the low-end models that WalMart happened to be carrying. The other vacuums proved unable to deal with the amount of fur, rabbit poop and hay that explodes out of the bunny cage... in addition to long human hairs and hundreds of threads I drop when sewing. The motor burnt out on one and the brushes warped on another and both smelled like burning when we used them so now they are a pile of cord, mechanical parts and electronics my engineer boyfriend scavenged for a project that will probably never happen.

Anyway, as I was saying: the Roomba is the only vacuum we have at the moment. I first read about Roombas a long, long time ago in Reader's Digest and still remember a line from it that went something like, "She immediately scooted under the footed bathtub and enthusiastically bounced her forehead off the back wall, joyfully sucking up the accumulation of dust that I had been afraid to touch for some time now." Owning a Roomba, I can truthfully say this is exactly the kind of behavior you can expect from a floor-cleaning robot.

It's easier to imagine the Roomba as an eager, excitable but mostly incompetent puppy frolicking around your house than as a dedicated cleaning machine. It will get tangled in cords. It will get stuck under furniture. It will ram itself against walls and excitedly circle any dirt it finds until the floor is clean. When it encounters a problem it turns off and woefully emits a beep code that sounds suspiciously depressed. Bee-boop. Bee-Bee-boop.

It encounters problems a lot.

We don't allow it in the kitchen anymore because that's where the bunny cage is. If allowed, it trundles around, picking up hay and fur and then dragging it all into the hallway and spreading it around the apartment. The other day it snuck into the kitchen and knocked over a bunch of bottles that had been set aside for recycling. "Clink... clink... clink... CLUNKCLATTERCLINK."

We used to have our apartment configured such that it could get under an end table if it approached it from a perfect angle but would then get stuck, unable to find the angle to get out. We'd often come home to find the robot suck under the table, sadly trapped and out of battery power.

My favorite incident was, of course, the PomPom incident. We have a brown blanket that has a bunch of pompoms attached to it that sometimes fall off. One of the first times we used the Roomba it tried to eat a pompom and choked, turning off and beeping in what I swear was a confused and alarmed tone. Some time later the Roomba was cleaning and I noticed it leaving a trail of brown behind it. Investigating further, we discover that the Roomba had caught and slaughtered a second pompom, cheerily spreading its yarn-y remains all over our floor. Revenge is sweet.

The vicious killer stalking Buster.

The little thing is surprisingly good at cleaning. It has brushes to sweep things into its dustpan as its primary method of cleaning, but it also vacuums too. Higher-end models have a recharging station, so they can charge themselves when they're low on power - they also have a scheduling function so you can set it to clean at a specific time. It has an impressive set of sensors and movement algorithms. It alternates movement patterns in a way that lets it cover almost all the area of a room. It can sense when it approaches an obstacle, stops when it get picked up or encounters a ledge and can sense particularly "dirty" areas that need special attention.

I'm pleased to be the owner of a Roomba, even if it's more like owning an obsessive compulsive animal than an effective cleaning machine. It's much more entertaining than simply vacuuming.

iRobot, the company that developed the Roomba, also released a robot called the iCreate, which is basically a Roomba without the vacuum that people can program. The boyfriend won one from Instructables for a program to control an iCreate via palmpiolet. At some point in the future we'll introduce the two robots and see how they get along. Prepare for a robot uprising!

And now for some fun videos:

2 things about

Bee-boop: living with a Roomba
  1. well, if anything can make vacuuming more entertaining, I'm all for it!

  2. Roomba Pacman? I AM SO GETTING ONE NOW :D
    The Irrepressible Pinecone


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