Sunday, June 17, 2007

I, Roomba

Several years ago, my sister's family bought my parents a Roomba. My Dad is something of a clean freak, so a little round robot made to clean the floor seemed like an appropriate gift.

The model my parents received was (at the time) one of the more high-end models. Unlike lower-end models, this Roomba had the ability to locate and return to a docking-station if it detected that it was running out of power. That's right folks, it had learned how to feed itself.

I think my parents were somewhat skeptical about the robot vacuum, but they gave it a chance, and it did do an effective job at removing daily dirt and dust around the house. Some time later, however, my father noticed an odd behavior in the little round automaton, and notified my mother about it.

"I think Oscar is getting lazy," my father said. They had named the Roomba 'Oscar' for some reason I still don't understand.
"Why do you say that?" my mother asked.
"I set him up in the bedroom room and close the door. 10 minutes later, I don't hear any noise from inside the room. I go back in and Oscar is sitting there in his little recharging station."

'Oscar', apparently, had learned an important lesson from us humans. The lesson of 'how to be a slacker'.

As it turns out, the roomba was actually having some sort of problem with its power connections, causing the battery to drain too quickly. An emergency "battery-transplant" was attempted, but this did not fix the problem, so my parents acquired a new Roomba instead, and 'Oscar' was retired. With extreme prejudice.

Well, not quite. 'Oscar' is now sitting in a box under my desk. Roombas have a "Serial Control Interface" (basically a serial port) that lets you reprogram it to work with different sensors, or program a new path-finding algorithm, etc. More info on this can be found here (pdf). At some point when I get some free time, I'm going to see what I can get the Roomba to do. Clearly, it will need to be something that demonstrates it has lost its slacker tendencies. Perhaps I'll start with having it do my taxes.

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