Most of us are familiar with this fellow. He's a cute little robot vacuum who'll zip around your home to keep things tidy. He's got plenty of quirks and troubles though—something his competition is trying to avoid.
iRobot's Roomba is one of the more familiar names when it comes to robot cleaners, but it's also quite tricky and troublesome as one Slate writer discovered:
When I first got the robot in 2007, I loved it-if I used it per the company's directions, it cleaned up quite well. But over time, I grew to resent the machine. The Roomba, I found, was neither very bright nor obedient. If I didn't clean up the room before I turned it on-moving chairs, setting up "virtual walls" to restrict its movements, removing errant video cables and other wires-the Roomba would either get stuck or wander around aimlessly. I've taken to using the Roomba less and less-it's both quicker and more effective to get out a broom or Dustbuster.
Other companies have realized that consumers might not be happy with these shortcomings in iRobot's creation and are seeking to make better robot cleaners. Two results of that mission for improvement are the Neato and the Evolution Mint. The Neato is a vacuum similar to the Roomba, while the Mint is a bot that handles sweeping and mopping.
The two robots differ from the Roomba in that they are far more organized when attacking a room:
The Neato uses several different sensors to create an internal map of a room. Based on this map, it will first clean the room's perimeter before going back and forth within the perimeter in a systematic way.
Like the Neato, the Mint is a systematic robot that constructs an internal map of a room. In addition to onboard sensors, the Mint is also aided by "celestial navigation," which is enabled by a small transmitter that you set up somewhere in the room. The transmitter shoots infrared signals on to the ceiling, and the robot determines its position by triangulating over those signals-essentially the way GPS works.
While the two robots aren't without flaws either—the Neato sometimes leaves debris behind because it only passes over spots once and the Mint lacks a docking station—they are bit of an improvement on the Roomba.
Now someone just needs to continue that trend of improvement until all I have to do is whistle for an army of robots to appear and tidy up my room. [Slate]