Vac hack lets Roomba test air quality too

I don't expect the Roomba to do windows, but it'd be nice if it did a little more around the house. Students at the Rhode Island School of Design have come up with a vac hack that expands the little robot vacuum cleaner's repertoire. They've tricked out a Roomba with an indoor air pollution sensor.

The hack promises to take one more household chore off your hands. Vacuum? Check. Track down sources of volatile organic compounds? Check.

Getting a Roomba to sniff out air pollution isn't much of a stretch. As the students note on their Roomba project page, the autonomous bots travel all around the rooms they're set loose in. Might as well have them assess air quality wherever they go.… Read more

We like our Roombas polite and calm

Add personality to the list of must-have robot vacuum cleaner features. Turns out that showing some emotion makes you a better service robot, even if you're just a motorized disc that cleans floors for a living.

Researchers from Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands determined the personality traits (PDF) that people want to see in a robo-vac, then figured out how to make it display those traits using motion, sound, and lights.

People successfully identified the traits in a video of a fake robo-vac (a remote control box on wheels) going through the motions (see the video below).

People readily anthropomorphize objects, and Robo-vac makers can make their products more predictable by deliberately pulling our strings, according to the researchers, adding that if we know what our little helpers are doing and how they're likely to react, we're more satisfied.… Read more

Order Roomba around by pointing with Kinect

If you ever feel like robots are getting the upper hand on humanity, consider using your own hands to put them in their place.

Researcher Akihiro Nakamura from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan has developed a motion controller for iRobot's Roomba vacuum bots that recognizes his gestures and posture.

The system is yet another Microsoft Kinect hack using the OpenNI API. The gestural interface eliminates the need to bend over and push Roomba's buttons. It also allows you to lord it over the overgrown hockey puck.

First, to calibrate the Kinect you have to assume a hands-up stance (either humiliating or all-powerful, depending on your perspective). Then the system starts recognizing gestures, as seen in the demo above. To make Roomba clean a spot on the floor that it missed, assume a scolding stance: left hand on your hip, and right hand pointing at the offending dirt. Roomba scoots over to the spot and does a thorough hoovering. … Read more

Robots dazzle CES-goers with stunts, upgrades

LAS VEGAS--From robo-dinosaurs to mecha-masseurs, robots at CES 2011 ran the gamut of wacky novelty products like the Sphero iPhone-controlled ball and the WheeMe back massage robot to practical but funked-out floor cleaners like dancing Mint sweepers.

There wasn't a whole lot that was new, but there were enough debuts and upgrades to keep it interesting.

Japan's Murata Manufacturing, which makes capacitors found in many mobile phones, showed off its robotics skills with Murata Boy (above) and Murata Girl, which cycle along balance beams without toppling over.

Making their CES debut, the acrobat bots can stand upright even when stationary thanks to gyro sensors that control a rotating disk, which in turn corrects their slant. … Read more

LG's Hom-Bot robo-vac to challenge Roomba?

LAS VEGAS--LG Electronics is showing off its Smart Hom-Bot robot vacuum this week at CES 2011, part of its Thinq smart home appliance lineup.

With iRobot introducing an upgraded series of its dominant Roomba vac-bots at CES, the onus was on the Korean electronics giant to distinguish its product.

The Smart Hom-Bot, weighing about 7.7 pounds and standing 3.5 inches tall, can clean hardwood floors and lightweight carpets. Like Roomba, it also has edge-detect sensors so it doesn't plunge over drop-offs.

But unlike Roomba, it cleans by mapping out the room with a ultrasonic and infrared sensors … Read more

New Roomba, Scooba models get to work

LAS VEGAS--iRobot demoed its updated line of robot floor cleaners at CES 2011, showing off a more powerful Roomba vacuum bot and a much more compact Scooba floor scrubber.

Roomba hoovered some crushed Cheerios, while Scooba got to work on a coffee-stained tile floor. Both robots go on sale this spring. They're similar to their predecessors, but have important differences.

Both updates have the iAdapt cleaning tech, a sensor and software system that monitors the floor more than 60 times per second and chooses from dozens of robot behaviors to get the job done, the company says.

I played around with the Scooba 350 last year, and wasn't crazy about its bulk, which proved a bit of a pain when emptying the cleaning fluid tanks.

At only 6.5 inches across and 3.5 inches tall, the new Scooba 230 has a much smaller footprint, making maintenance easier, and it can be grabbed with one hand. The new size, however, is mainly designed to allow the robot to get into tight corners around toilets, which was never a delightful chore anyway.

The 230 can scrub up to 150 square feet of sealed hardwood, tile, or linoleum floors, and has edge-detect sensors to keep it away from stairs and drop-offs while working. The company says it can neutralize up to 97 percent of common household bacteria.

A neat feature is how the reservoirs work: An active reservoir system separates the cleaning solution from the dirty water. The active reservoir shrinks as more cleaning fluid is put down on the floor, allowing it to suck up more dirty water. iRobot says this eliminates dirty water from the cleaning area so the robot isn't just moving dirt around like a mop can. … Read more

iRobot updates Roomba, Scooba

People who hate housework will soon have two more robots to handle the chores.

iRobot this week will unveil the Scooba 230 floor washer and the next-generation Roomba 700 series of vacuums.

iRobot already has a line of Scooba floor washers, but the company is touting the Scooba 230 as a leaner cleaner. At 3.5 inches high and 6.5 inches wide, the 230 is geared to squeeze into tight places, such as underneath furniture and around bathroom fixtures. The 230 holds enough cleaning fluid to take care of 150 square feet of space in one session, iRobot said.… Read more

Culture hacker talks Kinect bounty hunt (Q&A)

When Microsoft's hot new Kinect motion-sensitive controller was released earlier this month, Phil Torrone and Limor Fried saw an opportunity to subvert what was being presented as a closed system.

Torrone and Fried, the principals behind the open-source hardware firm Adafruit Industries, love almost any kind of culture hacking, and in the Kinect, they recognized a system that presented users far more utility than Microsoft was offering.

Not wasting the chance to raise a bit of a stir, Adafruit said it would pony up $1,000 to the first person who could come up with an open-source driver for … Read more

Pain in the glass? Windoro bot does your windows

I've messed around with several household robots that clean floors, but I can't believe it's 2010 and I'm still manually washing my windows. I know I'll have to wait until 2020 for bionic eyesight, and a bit longer for immortality, but come on. Windows? By hand?

South Korea's Pohang Institute of Intelligent Robotics (PIRO) has given me reason to hope that one day I'll be freed from wiping away grime myself. It has developed a window-washer robot called Windoro that can do the job itself, increasing my leisure time.

Windoro resembles square floor-cleaning … Read more

Roomba vs. NaviBot: High-tech hygiene hoedown

Dirt. Disgusting dirt. The enemy of all that is gleaming, shiny, and gadgety--how we despise it. Thank the stars then that the brave super-scientists at iRobot worked so hard to create the revolutionary Roomba cleaning machine, guaranteed to keep your home sparkling and new, without any input from you. Pretty smart, eh?

So smart, in fact, that electronics mega-giant Samsung is getting in on the act with the Samsung NaviBot (for now, only available in the U.K.). It's a silicon beast of such calculated poise and deadly efficiency it could probably kill a tiger. A robot tiger. We … Read more