October 14, 2002
With the push of a button, the disc- shaped object clicks and whirrs into action. Lights blinking, the disc, a tad bigger and a lot heavier than a dinner plate, spins a spiral pattern in the middle of our den before breaking out in a puppylike search for debris across our carpet. "It's cute, sort of like a pet," my wife, Vickie, says as the Roomba robotic floor vacuum changes direction after nudging a leg on our butler's table. Cute and neat aptly describe the Roomba Intelligent FloorVac. Practical, however, does not. . . For now, says Howie Choset, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and ECE, "time- saving" gadgets mainly appeal to technophiles. "They think they're neat, and that's a reason to get one," he says. "Eventually, they will improve in performance to the point where the everyday person will have one." Choset knows from robotic cleaners: He is developing the master cleaning device - a mine-sweeping robot that searches unknown terrain for land mines. A critical component in the development is complete coverage, something the Roomba also strives for. Over time and with repetition, the Roomba is supposed to completely vacuum a room with two to five passes.