Our Robot Overlord

From Wayne's Dusty Box of Words

Before the Christmas break, a coworker asked me what I was getting my wife for Christmas:

I said, "a vacuum cleaner."

"Are you insane?! You'll wake up in a burning bed!"

"Nah. First of all, she REALLY likes her sleep. She would do nothing to damage our nice memory foam bed. If she were really mad, I'd just have to keep an eye out for Drain-O in the beef stew. "

"But, she plays the long game. I am probably safe until the 401(k) vests, then all the slights and wrongs will come due…"

"Secondly, we've been together for a long time. The bloom, as they say, is off that rose. Been there, done that on all the cute couple gifts."

"Thirdly, it's not just *any* vacuum cleaner, it's a Roomba"

"OOOH! That's different." Sarcasm dripping.

"Yeah, it's something she's wanted for a long time. And, as you know, we have the 3 Huskies…even vacuuming twice a week means putting up with dog hair on the floor the other 5 days. She figures if it runs every day, even if it's not perfect, it's a lot better."

And so it went. I did some research. My concern is with the capacity (see 3 Huskies). These things are pretty small. The top-end model empties itself. Which sounds cool and all until you realize that the bin they empty into is also pretty small. I didn't want a cheap model because it will get used and I didn't want to just burn one up. So I settled for a mid-range one that had repair parts available so we should be able to keep it going for a while. Unless the dogs ate it or something.

The big day came and, as predicted, she was ecstatic to receive a Roomba and quickly proceeded to put it together and set it to charging.

Another thing that my research had warned me about was how it behaves initially. It's dumb, or at least it looks that way. The Roomba uses a machine-learning algorithm to figure out your floorplan. The way that algorithm builds the model of your floor isn't the way you would go about it. So it looks to a human observer as terribly inefficient: rattling about, hitting the same obstacle over and over, vacuuming the same patch of floor 4 or 5 times.

The noise isn't bad. Nowhere near as loud as a real vacuum cleaner. Of course, it has nowhere near the power either, but that's not the point. But. Those first days. I would set it off and then go into the shop because as quiet as it was, I'd rather not listen to it. And in the shop, my head is near the floor (low ceiling in the basement) so I can monitor its progress.

Mysteriously, after a while, no sound. Hmm. Tie to go see if the dogs decided to see what the little thing tasted like. Dogs asleep. Roomba charging station empty. Hmm. Wander around the house. Oh look, it's in the middle of the master bedroom floor. Dead. The bin full, the sweeper bar chock full of dog hair. It's been defeated. Carry it back to the stand and let it charge after cleaning it out.

After a week or so, depending on your layout, it should have it all figured out. And it can zip around merrily chasing dog fur tumbleweeds. And when the power is low, it goes home to charge and sings a little song to let you know it's done for the day.

I've witnessed this happen exactly once so far. To be fair, I leave the house for work and mostly this happens during the day so presumably, this is now a common occurrence.

After a few days with the Roomba, Jess comes to me with a pad of paper. Measurements.

"I need you to make little wooden blocks, this size."


"The Roomba is sad."

"Sad? It's a machine. And, hopefully, not yet at a Cylon level of intelligence. What's it sad about?"

"It really wants to get under the couch and love seat to clean and they are about 2" too low for it to fit. It knows there's dog fur under there and it can't get to it."

"So we need all our furniture to be Roomba approved now?"

"Yes, that makes it happy. It wants to get the whole floor clean."

It's then that I notice she's picked up the random items that I think she leaves on the floor to test me on how I am doing with remaining calm in the face of adversity. And I see that all the dining room chairs are upside down on the table. Presumably to provide unfettered access to that area which is a Known Dog Fur Collection Area.



/exits muttering

So it's off to the shop to find some scrap oak, the only species I'd have in the needed size. If I was going to bang out a project that delays the Bed of Doom, I don't want to have to also glue-up something and add another day of delay.

So I make 8 blocks 2-3/4" x 2-3/4" x 2" tall. Chamfered, stained to match the existing legs of the couch and loveseat. With a predrilled and countersunk hole for mounting and fresh felt pads for the bottoms to protect the hardwood floors. Not that there is any finish left on them after 20 years of dogs and kids, but it's the thought that counts…

Flipping the couch over, scrapping off the dog fur impregnated remains of the old felt pads, installing the new blocks, no problem. Hmm, I need to stand it back up and the screws are fin and all, but that's a lot of leverage. We need to pick the couch up and set it down on the legs. No kids home, so I had to get Jess to help with this. It went as you might imagine. But after some work, we got the furniture upright.

Now the Roomba has access to the underside area and, I guess, it is happier.

I'm still going to keep an eye on it. If that cheery green light turns into a red one that scans back and forth, I'm going hunting before it decides it doesn't need us anymore.