Robot Cleaners Continue to Evolve

By: Robert Thomson

For those without the time or energy to do household cleaning and chores, robot cleaners are a more viable option now than anytime in the past. What was previously thought to be fantasy or a work of science fiction is now apart of a growing trend of replacements for traditional human maids. As robot cleaners continue to become more sophisticated and capable, a look back into their beginning is necessary to understand how far robotic cleaners have come.

One of the pioneers of the robot cleaning industry is iRobot, co-founded by Helen Greiner, who studied computer science, mechanical engineering, and electrical engineering at MIT. Her studies played an integral role in helping pave the way for robot cleaners, although her efforts have also helped create Packbot, which diffuses land mines in war-torn areas. For those who are fighting a battle against dirt and disorder along the household front, iRobot offers Roomba, Scooba, and Looj, who vacuum, clean floors, and clear gutters respectively.

iRobot is not without its competitors however. Neato, Electrolux Trilobite, and The Evolution Mint are just three of the competing robot cleaners. Neato and Electrolux are in direct competition with iRobot's Roomba, whereas The Evolution Mint expands upon robots like Roomba and Neato are able to do by sweeping and mopping as well.

Although these competitors may do fundamentally the same job, they do not all go about accomplishing the task in the same manner. One general distinction between robot cleaners is whether or not the robot maps out the area before beginning to perform the task. Neato will use its sensors to map out the area, and then proceed to clean from the perimeter to the center of the area. The Evolution Mint takes mapping to the next level by using its sensors to map the ceiling in order to get a more accurate picture of the area needed to be cleaned.

For robots who do not use sensors to map, a more haphazard approach is used. This rudimentary style can best be described as the robot cleaning an area while traveling in one direction until it bumps into an object, causing the cleaner to switch directions. This results in a more uneven cleaning job performed by the robot when compared to that of the mapping cleaners. As robots continue to evolve, more primitive means of cleaning like the non-mappers will become extinct, and the mappers will become like founding fathers to a new wave of more sophisticated machines.

As technology continues to evolve, robots will continue to take over many of the mundane tasks humans still perform today. Evolving robot cleaners have already demonstrated they are capable enough to handle sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming duties. How long will humans have to wait before there is a fully operational robotic maid who can take care of everything from dusting fragile objects and folding clothes fresh out of the dryer? Although this may seem like science fiction now, if today's robot cleaners have shown anything, it is tomorrow's full-scale robotic cleaners are not as far away as humans think.

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