Many utopian dreams were dashed long ago, but the fantasy of a happy, chore-loving robot has remained vital into the 21st century, and this year a Massachusetts company called iRobot offered Roomba, America’s first affordable robot vacuum cleaner.
Bumper-rimmed, low to the ground, the Roomba Intelligent FloorVac weighs seven and a half pounds; it’s the size of a short stack of dinner plates. Using computer sensors, Roomba makes its way around furniture and clutter without human oversight, sucking up dirt and dust. According to its manufacturer, you can let Roomba loose in a modestly unclean room, go out for a sandwich or a day of work, and return to a clean floor and a robot at rest. Early reviews (which involved tests on lightly soiled hardwood, linoleum, various carpets) have been favorable. Placed in the center of a room, Roomba does its chore in a seemingly unfathomable pattern, running one foot per second, spiraling haphazardly, covering some ground more than once — and getting the job done.