Not Your Average Roomba, Anymore

Just came across this post from BLDG BLOG, which explores the idea of domestic robots. It, first, put me in mind of several science fiction books I’ve read, as well as The Fifth Element and The Jetsons.

Imagining robots daily making my bed and washing my dirty dishes (hang on – water and a robot? Maybe I’m better off doing my own dishes, after all) is a pretty happy imagining! Those small black patterns (called “optical tags”) on the edges of tables and sheets that would help robot Merry Maids to figure out that it’s the sheets they’re supposed to fold, and the dishes they’re supposed to wash, do seem a little odd – but I can definitely see the appeal!

Sort of.

Scrolling through the article, a few things occur to me.

1. What about the aesthetics of such a system? Sure, not having to make my own bed or replace my used, cleaned, and dried mugs (are we still using dishwashers for that?) back on the shelf, that sounds nice to my lazy self. Take a look at those two-handled, oddly-patterned mugs, though, on the cupboard shelves! Except, it’s not really a cupboard anymore, because all the doors have been removed to make access easier for Rosie the Robot. Personally, I like hiding my mugs, plates, and bowls behind solid, blank cupboard doors. Makes me look like a neater housekeeper than I am. Furthermore, those “optical tags” stand out just a little too much. I find them distracting. In contrast, the article’s author writes:

Like a tomb from Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, our houses will be covered in hieroglyphs—machine-hieroglyphs, not legible as much as they are optically recognizable.

When you put it that way, I suppose it might eventually look alright (says the ancient historian in me) – but I still hope designers will be involved, as well as engineers and scientists.

2. Using the same the mugs-on-the-shelves example, is that use of space really ideal? Most people have more than four mugs, and not enough cupboard space to place said mugs four to six inches apart, simply so a robot can see and grasp the handle of one particular mug. I don’t see these domestic robots being more useful than a human arm, hand, and opposable thumb in this situation. Which can, additionally, reach behind the foremost mugs to find the favorite, blue, chipped mug of the person belonging to the arm, hand, and thumb.

3. Is wealth a factor? The Roomba is pretty affordable now, or so I hear. But the new sheets (are those Egyptian cotton, by the way? Do they come in blue and green plaid?), and the tables, with those little black shapes on them, and the mugs with that extra (ugly) robot-handle – will they cost more to manufacture? Will prices be higher initially even if they don’t cost more? Who will be able to afford all these new amenities required to allow the domestic robot to, well, be domestic? What about the price of the robots themselves, and maintenance costs? Will they be like cars, which need regular oil checks to keep them running smoothly, or will they be like toasters, which get thrown out when they break?

3. My last point is well-made, I think, by an image from that adorable movie, Wall-E. Is this the future we set in motion with innovations like domestic robots?

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