November 06, 2006

Geeking Out With the Roomba Robot Vacuum

November 5th is a big day in our household - every year - as it just so happens to be my wife's birthday. While I don't always plan way in advance, and don't reach the 10th percentile in gift wrapping ability, I usually aim to have something fun for her to open up. Today, she got two gifts - something very small, and something bigger. The tiny item was Apple's brand-new iPod Shuffle which only hit store shelves this last Friday (making only two days old), and the larger item was more practical, yet almost as geeky - Roomba's robotic vacuum cleaner. For some reason, I think I just might end up having more fun with the vacuum cleaner than the iPod Shuffle...

For the last few years, we've amused ourselves with the idea of leaving for work and coming back to find the house cleaned by a cylindrical slave robot - damned to do our chores with us out. Ever since the first version of iRobot's Roomba vacuum came out, I've read about their tricks on the Web, and eyed them curiously in stores - but not until today did we take the plunge and immerse ourselves in Jetsonian household bliss - should our new pet robot turn out as we have planned.

While the iPod Shuffle is so small that it presents a choking hazard for young children, the Roomba instead came in a suitcase-like box, complete with handle on top for lugging. After unpacking, we found a few parts, but very little assembly needed. The power cord leads to the machine's docking station, which holds the device. A remote control helps us to schedule its chores, and we even have the option to set up wireless "walls" to stop the Roomba from entering specific rooms, or plunging to its death over a stairwell (if we had those in our Silicon Valley condo).

After three hours of charging, the docking station glowed green, signaling it was ready to eat dirt and take prisoners. We hit the "Clean" button on the remote control, and with a tune reminiscent of a victory charge, the Roomba set off to tackle our carpet. Charging forward without sight, the frisbee-like robot whirred to and fro, zipping all over the room, getting under chairs and in corners where our upright vacuum feared to tread. With a helpful push, we set it off into our main living area, and saw the Roomba glide hover-like over the carpet, softly slamming into walls, chairs, the tables or our sofa, but rising, no worse for the wear, to take on the next crazy angle.

While our beagle looked on amused, we had stopped everything. The TiVo was turned off, laptops put away, as we peered over the edges of the couch to see how our little electronic puppet was doing our bidding. Needless to say, my wife was elated. Somewhere in our past, we moved beyond the point where getting one another household appliances for a gift would have been the ultimate of letdowns, and we both laughed as our sightless automaton tried its darndest to climb over throw rugs and escape from leg-wielding chairs. The Roomba was the most exciting, funniest thing going on.

Now, we can't wait to schedule the little beast to do chores with us out, to see if we can come home to clean carpets, zigzag patterns, and a frazzled hound. That trip begins this week. I hope our little Roomba (not yet named) gets enough rest tonight before its big day.

Listening to ''What Else Is There?'', by Röyksopp (Play Count: 11)

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