Far Horizons: Tales of Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. Issue #13 April 2015 - Page 17

Design Flaws of the iRobot Roomba 500 Andrew Wade The iRobot® Roomba 500 series is an automatic, robotic vacuum cleaner (“robovac”). While it offers completely automatic second-generation robot vacuuming capabilities at a price you can afford, it also suffers serious design flaws. This document is purposed to enumerate these for the benefit of designers, investment partners and other stakeholders. Return to base The iRobot® Roomba 500 series features the ability to return to its charging station when its internal battery runs low. This feature is a direct descendant of the original Machina speculatrix designs by William Grey Walter and as such, has not improved much since the 1940s, when it was first conceived. Its base station beacon and corresponding receiver on the robot are severely limited as they operate on near-infrared frequencies and as such can only function in line-of-sight. This, combined with the robots limited room navigation facilities, makes it possible for the iRobot® Roomba 500 to become trapped in another room, hungry and far from home. power to operate its motors and calling the nearest human for rescue at the same time. The operator then has to pick up the unit and place it on the charger manually. Room navigation As mentioned in the previous item, the iRobot® Roomba 500 series’ room navigation capabilities are severely flawed. The unit cannot tell the difference between a temporary obstruction, such as a human foot or a wheeled swivel chair, and a permanent obstruction such as a sofa or a parked bicycle. It also has problems perceiving three-dimensional objects such as bicycle wheels, leading to the danger of the unit becoming trapped beneath one of the wheels of the aforementioned vehicle. 1. Elmer and Elsie, Burden Neurological Institute, 1940. See An Electromechanical Animal, Dialectica (1950) Vol. 4: 42—49 Furthermore, the unit can become trapped in programming loops leading to physical entrapment beneath and between items of household furniture, i.e. wardrobes, occasional tables, coffee tables and wooden chairs. While it usually escapes the programming loops due to the modern software engineers voluntary non-use of the unconditional GOTO statement, such entrapment can and does waste battery energy and increase the likelihood of stranding incidents (see above). Only being able to use a limited repertoire of movements to escape, eventually the battery becomes completely drained as the docking light flashes plaintively and the display glows a cherry red of desperation. Finally the robot becomes completely stranded and plays a sad tune, indicating that it lacks sufficient Also, the robot cannot logically vacuum the room the base station is located in last, as it does not perform adequate room mapping and lacks a long-term memory as such. Instead, the unit vacuums the home room, then vacuums the room next to that, and so on until the battery becomes depleted and it attempts to return PAGE 17