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Floor Vacuum Robot for $200 367

abhikhurana writes "MSNBC is running a review of Roomba, supposedly the first intelligent 'floor vac', as in a cross between vacuum cleaner and a robot. I think its especially suited for lazy bums like me. Just let it loose, sitback and enjoy. There is also a video of how it cleans the floors, which requires windows media player (what else?) to watch it. It seems that the robo cleaner can indeed do that job for which it has been designed. A related article on Techreview has slightly more details about how it works. There is also a website exclusively for Roomba."
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Floor Vacuum Robot for $200

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  • by qurob ( 543434 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:39PM (#4480032) Homepage

    Remember? Robots were going to do EVERYTHING in the 70's and 80's.

    They were going to help us! Everything was robot this, robot that.

    Bring us drinks, cut the lawn (solar power!), vaccuum....

    I'm going to go read all my back issues of Popular Science, I'll find a robot lawn mower or two.
  • by beerman2k ( 521609 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:42PM (#4480076) Homepage
    This thing looks pretty sweet. If it actually picks up dirt and can do an entire room without recharging/emptying then i want one of these babies. The only crappy thing is that it can't get the corners, which seems to be where all the dust accumulates, at least in my appartment.
  • by Glass of Water ( 537481 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:43PM (#4480100) Journal
    I had a similar idea to this (and probably millions of other people did too) but I thought it would be cool to have the thing solar powered. It would seek out a spot of sunshine and recharge for a while, then clean until it got almost dead, then seek out light again. it would not be able to sweep for long on any given charge, but you could put it in a room and let it just go on and on. maybe it could alert you if it got stuck or if it was in need of a new bag.
  • I wonder .... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tensor ( 102132 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:45PM (#4480124)
    How noisy it is ... all the article says is at a pretty low noise level.

    Pretty low noise for what ? a vaccum cleaner ? cos even a low noise one is noisy as hell.

    This looks like a ripoff of Husqvarna's automatic lawnmower. Only they have a 100% unattended one, as one model is solar powered !!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:53PM (#4480201)
    Ehh... Is U.S. of A. really trailing behind?

    Vacuum-cleaner stores are selling much prettier versions of these puppies in Europe right now -- this version even has a LCD:

    Really begging for a slew of Beowulf Cluster jokes?

  • by Ghoser777 ( 113623 ) <[] [ta] [abnerhaf]> on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:55PM (#4480216) Homepage
    It's very difficult to get an algorithm to cover oddly defined spaces, especially when there's objects (aka furniture) in the way. Should the robot move the furniture? What if a piece of furniture has a clearance that is below the robot's ability to vacuum under?

    Now that I think abou it, the robot probably only vacuums area that it can physically move over, so after a couple months, Fibonaccinumbers come into play and you'll have a dust bunny population explosion. But that's about the same amount of area any kid will vacuum, except that kids will probably skip any areas that don't look dirty (even if they really are).

  • Re:Why is it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pivo ( 11957 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:56PM (#4480227)
    I seem to remember a european (Brittish?) version of this type of vac that was announced a long time ago here on /., if I remember correctly, it did what you're talking about. I agree, if I have to watch it, what's the point? (Of course, I'd watch it anyway, but I want it to be able to work by itself.)
  • The First? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by frause ( 234486 ) <`es.emoh' `ta' `esuarf'> on Friday October 18, 2002 @01:57PM (#4480238)
    What about Electrolux Trilobite?
    Electrolux claims they were first! Trilobite Pressrelease []
  • by SonicBurst ( 546373 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:06PM (#4480328) Homepage
    There was a blurb on the Roomba in this month's What's New section of PopSci. They quoted a battery time of 90 minutes, which to me seems like WAY more than enough time to vacuum. However, the blurb said that it can only do 2 10x20 rooms in that amount of time. Well, I don't know what everyone lives in, but it would take this thing all day to vacuum my house which measures in at about 2000 sq. ft, and I for one wouldn't want to hear a vacuum running all day. And I can't just let the thing run all day at work, since the batteries only last 90 min! Guess I'll be vacuuming the old way for some time to come still....
  • Re:Why is it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbourgon ( 186257 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:10PM (#4480373) Homepage
    It doesn't actually remember the room. It uses a variation on the wandering drunk pattern, but the practical upshot is it should finish in a couple of hours. Part of why it's so cheap - it doesn't have to "learn the room", you just put it down and walk away. From what I've read on it, the price point is paramount... for $200, I'm damn tempted.
  • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:14PM (#4480398) Homepage
    Less than half an acre, since that's all the robomower is designed for.

    If, however, he bought it a couple years ago I might buy a hundred hours saved.

    Looked at one of the robotic mowers a few months ago, but they only work well if you have a single contiguous area of lawn, with no narrow sections. I have three separate lawn areas, which would require buying two additional power stations and manually moving the robomower between each section. No thanks.
  • by jridley ( 9305 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:16PM (#4480415)
    What the hell? I spend all day cleaning, and only the last 20 minutes vacuuming. This thing would have a hell of a time in my house, unless I cleaned up first. It'd never get past all the kid's toys, shoes and socks, piles of magazines, etc. I bet over half the floor is covered with stuff unless cleaned before vacuuming.

    I'd love a robotic lawn mower, but don't think it would work very well on our lawn; we have significant amounts of landscaping, the ground is fairly bumpy (enough to make me sore after riding the lawn mower for a while), there are hills, buildings, dog toys, flowers, all kinds of stuff that need to be avoided. Do the lawn mowers only work if you have a flat, unadorned lawn?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:16PM (#4480422)
    rounded do they get dust in corners, under stuff, behind stuff.
    What we need is a robot with a arm that have a good mobility to go under the couch, behind stuff. Otherwise....useless.
  • Improvements. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SecGreen ( 577669 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:24PM (#4480485)
    These guys should hire some programmers (and engineers) from The Robomower Company []... The mower can handle a quarter acre with all kinds of obstructions...

    Also on my wishlist:
    1. Return-to-base self-charging.
    2. Return-to-base dust bin emtpying.
    3. Environment learning. It could develop a map of the floor, and keep track of the dirt collected in different areas. Then it could do a daily cleaning of the high-traffic areas, and do occasional full passes.
    4. Take some lessons from Robot Soccer [] and learn some teamwork. (Imagine a beowulf cluster [] of these!)
    5. Remote Interface with an X10 burglar alarm. (Although "Release the vacuums!" just doesn't have the same ring as "release the hounds!)

  • Isn't it typical... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nmnilsson ( 549442 ) <magnus.freeshell@org> on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:25PM (#4480491) Homepage
    Did they even stop to think before giving it a female name? *sigh*
    If vaccuming had been fun, it would have been l33t suXor or something...
  • Re:What if (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Comedian ( 26794 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @02:34PM (#4480551)
    Yes, the Electrolux Trilobite actually recharges itself automatically. Check out the English press-kit [].

    The technology they are using in the Trilobite to let it map out rooms is really cool: echo-location with ultrasound, just as bats do.

    As far as I know, it's so far only being sold in Sweden (since spring 2002) and Norway (since autumn 2002). I've read that Electrolux plans to start marketing it for other European countries in early 2003.

    The only down-side about this robo-cleaner is the price.. about 12000 kroner here in Norway, which is about USD $1500. (Ouch.)

    I've been drooling over this thing since it was released on the Swedish market, but it's way too expensive for me yet. Hopefully competing products will force Electrolux to lower the price.

  • I really like mine. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2002 @03:14PM (#4480831)
    I've had my Roomba for about two weeks now and it's great. It cleans my medium pile carpet just fine, as well as my hardwood and linolium floors. Its little bins are packed full of all the invisible crud (fuzz, hair, crumbs, dust) that I would expect a vacuum to pick up. I have doubts as to how much it actually maps out rooms as opposed to just running around randomly, but it does manage to get everywhere somehow.

    My one and only complaint is that it has no timer. I would think that it would have cost practically nothing to add functionality to allow it to automatically turn on and start on a programmed schedule, say every Wednesday at noon or something like that.
  • by ahrenritter ( 187622 ) <> on Friday October 18, 2002 @03:17PM (#4480848) Homepage
    built in sensor for stairs.
  • by Anenga ( 529854 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @03:33PM (#4480960)
    I don't think any clean-freak mom in America would want this thing to do it's floors. I watched the video clip in the article [], then you'll know what I mean.

    First of all, it seems to only floors. And it only cleans "slightly" it doesn't seem like it will go deep into the rug and get that dirt out, it does not seem powerful at all with no adaquate suction.

    In addition, it doesn't seem very intelligent. It works by sweeping around an area, then when it detects something, it will go in a circular motion to make sure it gets all of it up in that area. But it can easily roam off and miss a lot. Well, unless you give it a lot of time. In the video, they said it would take 45 minutes to clean the studio. Or a half hour to clean a small room. Do note, half of that time is probably finding the mess. That's probably it's biggest problem. Perhaps it should send out detection lasers (or whatever, the stuff that stores use for automatic doors etc.) to detect if anything is above floor level?

    The problem with actually finding the mess in a short amount of time was so paramount that they developed little pods that you put around it, to cage it in so it won't pass them and find the mess faster. While that helps, it really isn't solving the problem. Ideally, you'd start it up and it goes straight to the mess and clean it up.

    Right now, I'd consider the thing blind. Aimlessly circling around looking for crumbs.

    I wouldn't recommend it. Though, there is very good potential for "iRobot" (the company). Check back in a few years.
  • Re:Why is it... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kris0r ( 453555 ) on Friday October 18, 2002 @03:44PM (#4481023) Homepage
    Assuming docking itself can be easily done, it's really 'remembering' a room, or even just a path to get back to the docking station, that is the hard part.

    Consider the small number of sensors on this thing. If I remember correctly it has just a few IR sensors (used for following walls, etc). Mapbuilding in general requires a little more than that, and is also VERY computationally and memory intensive (for more information you might want to read about the most common method for mapbuilding, evidence grids []).

    Even if you were just to attempt to remember a) the location of your docking station and b) your own location, after half an hour of vacuuming (especially on carpet) and bumping into things, the odometry error that will have accumulated is tremendous -- you'd have no hope of knowing your actual location relative to the docking station. Normally a number of localization methods are used to combat odometry error (most commonly, Kalman filtering []). However, they all require lots of sensory input and processing.

    So, if you want a robot that can plug itself back in (at least, one that can do so by remembering where it's docking station is), be prepared to spend a lot more than $200.

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