labor day for the 21st century

So, I did it. I got us a Roomba. As mentioned earlier, I've been really tempted by the idea of an affordable robot to do my vacuuming. And, I had a merchandise credit at Sharper Image, a store I almost never go into, because I'd returned a generous but not-useful-to-me tenure gift from a relative. So I wound up getting a top of the line new Roomba Discovery for only $80 of my own money: less than the cheapest model would cost me elsewhere. (The Discovery line just came out a couple of weeks ago -- bigger dustbins, more features, etc than original Roombas).

So I got it yesterday, and put it to work today: Roomba vacuumed the main areas of our house, except for the bedroom, while I put away laundry, picked up clutter, talked on the phone, and followed along with a Swiffer to get the corners. All in far less time than it takes me to vacuum the same rooms. Awesome. Some of my initial notes on having a robot in the house:
  • It's really, really, really hard not to start talking to it or of it as if it were another being. I feel bad that we're still calling it Roomba, its factory name, rather than a family name. I'm sure that will come in time.
  • Roomba has its own method of doing things. You're supposed to start it off in the center of the room; it then spirals outwards to cover the territory. But it has a complicated process of bumping off of furniture/obstacles and then zigzagging back and forth over the floor. On one pass it probably isn't as thorough as a regular vacuum -- but Roomba goes back, again and again and again, until it decides the floor is clean. This is a really different way from the approach of most humans, which is to clean in stripes or squares in a grid. Even my girlfriend, who is one of the most relaxed people I know about cleaning, and about how to clean, watched the robot for two minutes and was like "no, Roomba, get that piece of dirt over there!" And then she had to leave out of frustration. I think this is a fascinating response to a machine -- and apparently completely ordinary. All the articles I've read (and the very active user discussion groups I've seen) suggest that people almost immediately start treating it as a sentient being. We're all just getting ready for the really smart robots.
  • The dogs really didn't care too much about it -- it was less upsetting than the regular vacuum to W, except when it beeped. G was outside in the yard most of the time, but did seem kind of anxious when she noticed it getting close to the outside door.
  • Roomba doesn't do corners, or big clumps of dog hair. But I can follow along with a Swiffer to get those pretty easily. My regular vacuum doesn't really do corners anyway.
  • Our lifestyle isn't totally robot-friendly -- too many items on the floor that have to be picked up, power cords etc that you have to watch out for. But maybe this will help us be neater. ("Honey, you know the robot doesn't like your shoes to be in the living room".)
  • I really don't like to vacuum -- it always seems like tremendous effort to drag out the machine, plug it in behind the sofa, etc. Then I get really hot and dusty, and usually pretty cranky while doing it. This is way more fun.
  • Roomba isn't a HEPA vac -- if you have really bad allergies it might not be the best thing. But my HEPA vac is a really cheap one, and I didn't notice too much of a difference. And if I used Roomba more frequently than I use the vac, then we'll all be better off in the first place, not just while vacuuming.
  • Now, if only they'll come up with a hamster-sized robot to vacuum my upholstered furniture...