You probably remember all the excitement in the press last year when Ginger (or the Segway Scooter) appeared? When it's available, it will cost thousands of dollars. At this price and with all the attention -- or lack of it -- paid to pedestrians in major U.S. cities, I doubt it will be a huge commercial success.
Today appears the antithesis of Segway. Here comes Roomba. This is a small, affordable and useful robot. And it is available.
Roomba is a vacuum cleaner designed by iRobot and costs $199.95.
Think about it. If this cordless, sub-$200 floor-cleaning robot really works as advertised, Roomba could be the first consumer robot that actually does something (please, Sony, I love the AIBO, but it really doesn't do anything) and is widely adopted by consumers around the world.
And what is Roomba? Well, it's a vacuum that doesn't actually do a lot of vacuuming per se. Roomba looks like a very over-size CD player and weighs just 7 pounds. It moves around on two black, rubber wheels and one caster and uses brushes and squeegee-like rubber sweepers to coax the debris into it. For much smaller particles and dust, it uses a very small vacuum. According to iRobot, Roomba, which also has two small brushes that flick debris in front of the vacuum, is effective on hardwood floors and rugs, as well as short-pile carpets and kitchen tile floors.
Here is Roomba in action.
Along with the obvious cleaning requirement, iRobot CEO Colin Angle says Roomba knows how to navigate around obstacles and operate without injuring you, your children, or your pet -- or damaging your furniture and walls. It detects objects using infrared sensors, a bumper, and heuristics (with the help of an 8-bit CPU and 128MB of RAM). And it automatically shuts off when it's picked up or if you put your fingers in any of the moving parts.
Roomba is currently available through Brookstone, Hammacher Schlemmer, and The Sharper Image, and iRobot expects to offer it in other specialty and department stores in October.
If you want to read more about Roomba, you can check Walter S. Mossberg's column in today's Wall Street Journal. It is available online -- for paid subscribers only --under the title "A Vacuum Cleaner That Even A Couch Potato Could Love."
Source: Lance Ulanoff, PC Magazine, September 17, 2002
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