The future is as exhilarating as I thought it would be, though I am not wearing a silver unitard. Yet.
My wife found a great deal on a Roomba online, and it arrived a week or so ago. A Roomba, for those still riding velocipedes and sending messages by telegraph, is a robotic vacuum cleaner. It’s a disc about sixteen inches across and four inches high and it makes wonderful beeping noises. I love it.
The instruction manual is teasingly simple. You charge the thing up, turn it on, and let it bounce around the room. If it finds a wall, it will turn. If it gets caught up on rug tassles it will [tee hee!] push up with a little robotic foot and lift itself off before going somewhere else. It will even find areas of heavy dirt, flash a blue light, and make industrious tight spirals until it’s little silicon chip mind has determined the floor is clean enough before moving on. Never mind if it takes 45 minutes to clean one room, or if an onion skin sends it beeping “uh-oh” so you can come rescue it. It’s a robot! And it vacuums!
And what am I doing with all this time liberated from the grueling schedules of home dust collection? Why, I’m watching my robot vacuum, of course. It has various cleaning patterns and will sometimes strike out across open floor with Thelma and Louise fearlessness, heading towards a ledge, a chair leg, or the tempting tentacles of carpet fringe, only to veer sharply at the last moment. Sometimes it’s timid, describing a quavering line along a wall as its sensors keep it tight to an edge. I spent five minutes last night watching it work its way under a small kitchen table and stumble and bump between the legs like a high-scoring pinball. Should I rescue it? No…no. Better to let it learn.
Here’s the best part. When you determine it has earned its keep, you can press two buttons on the top and send it home. If you’ve ever seen a dog frantically sniffing around the skirts of a couch for a dropped bit of hamburger, you can imagine Roomba’s anticipation to go home to its charging station. As it gets closer to home it will move slower and make minute adjustments to align itself, much as I imagine a space capsule puffing jets in micro-adjustment as it approaches a docking pod. Three meters…two meters…aligning umbilicus…one meter…steady now…Houston, we are docked.
Roomba sings a celebratory song and then the charge light turns green. Not quite Rosie but we’re getting there.