The Automatic Shower Cleaner by SC Johnson isn’t a robot by our standards, but it’s close and we like it nonetheless. It might fit the definition of a robot by the dictionary definition, you be the judge:
1. A mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance.
2. A machine or device that operates automatically or by remote control.
3. A person who works mechanically without original thought, especially one who responds automatically to the commands of others.
Here at TR we tend to define a robot as a machine which alters or determines it’s behavior based upon sensory input. For instance, if an automatic shower cleaner could sense when to spray the shower on it’s own or how much to spray the shower through sensors then it would be a robot undeniably.
A sensing machine doesn’t need to resemble a human or even do a human task to be a robot by our terms. The task can be simple or very complex. The important part is that it in some way makes decisions based upon input of some format. This is where we draw our line. It can be argued then that even your refrigerator or heating & air conditioning are robotic devices. These are machines that alter their behavior based upon sensory feedback. They are replacing tasks of human work such as tending to the fireplace or opening and closing windows to regulate the temperature in the home. Would you considers these to be robots? What about a washing machine for clothes or dishes? Those machines replace a repetative human task. Intelligent washing machines which have sensors inside analyses how the cleaning is going and alter their cycles accordingly. Wouldn’t this fit the definition of a robot?
However, if you asked anyone these days to name a home robot you aren’t going to get “my dishwasher” or “my refrigerator” as an answer. You can lay good money on the bet that you will hear instead the funny little word, Roomba.
When people think of robots they tend to think of moving machines. Or more specifically, machines that move on their own without a human guiding them. The Roomba, being a mobile robotic vacuum cleaner fits most everyoneâ€™s idea of a robot. The robot can sense dirty spots on the floor, find it’s own way back to it’s charging dock, sense walls, furniture, and even drop offs like stair cases. This endearing robot has been so successful that it is now a household name. Some entrepreneurial kids have started a company selling animal covers for the Roomba. As for real family petâ€™s? Some pets seem to be taking the addition of the latest family member in stride while others are having issues over sharing their domain.
This robot has caused such a stir that even SNL has created a parody product called the Woomba inspired by the famous vacuum. (Warning: Somewhat adult material) EDIT: Apparently, this robot caused such a stir that it was removed from YouTube (o.g. URL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxO-FZNG0ao).
It is interesting to note how simple the first break out home robot was. For decades we all had visions of fancy human like helpers and what did reality show up with? A humble vacuum a few inches tall the size of a dinner plate. It makes sense though doesn’t it? Technology in the marketplace rarely makes huge leaps so it’s logical that robots would show up being quite simple in the beginning. A machine that bounces around sucking up debris requires relatively low sensing capabilities and thus is a feasible robot to manufacture and sell in the marketplace. Anything requiring vision or voice recognition is still well into the future. Robots have to tackle non-complex routine chores first before moving on to harder tasks like fetching us a drink. Irobot delivered a solid smack to the back of the heads of everyone who was dreaming up fancy servant robots. This was one of those marketplace moments when a collective “Duh!” reverberated around the world as it became painfully obvious that a humble robotic vacuum was the first step.
No doubt thousands of companies around the globe are scrambling to try and discover what “the next Roomba” is. The next logical step would seem to be the Lawnmower robot, however those have actually been around for a long time and have never quite taken off. Must have something to do with peopleâ€™s nervousness about unsupervised whirling metal blades.
What is your definition of a robot? What do you think the “next Roomba” will be? Leave your opinion in our comments section or the forums.