Robot Wars! Living the Jetsons Lifestyle


If there’s one gadget that truly epitomizes “technology,” surely it has to be the Robot. For me, the love affair started with classic TV shows like Lost in Space and The Jetsons.

Those robots were like mummies—slow, lumbering, with weird voices and limited functionality.

Then Star Wars came along and took it to a whole new level. Now, robots were fast and kind of agile. They had feelings, just like people.

Put it this way: Any gadget that can inspire an ’80s dance craze and a really creepy Tom Cruise movie is the real deal.

Why are we so mesmerized by robots? Is it their goofy voices? Their herky-jerky motions? Maybe. But for me, robots are fun because, with patience and ingenuity, we can teach them to do really cool things.

They’re like children—only they don’t talk back.

I did some digging and came across a company called iRobot. Founded years ago by MIT engineers, iRobot specializes in making… robots. Like many tech companies, they make a lot of military robots—bomb testing machines, undersea explorers, drones and such.

For the rest of us, they make great cleaning robots for the home. The Roomba 770 is a great example. The small, round disc is about the size of an old LP record. Turn it on and the gadget meanders around your home, using its infrared sensors to detect and vacuum dirt. Its low profile enables it to forage under beds, sofas and chairs. It cleans both floors and carpets, and has a secondary brush system that gently scrubs walls and baseboards. There’s even an indicator light to tell you when its chamber is full and needs to be emptied.

Some buyers have complained that it occasionally misses spots; others point out that it can’t climb up stairs. At $500, it’s not cheap—but neither are traditional upright vacuums. I’m ordering mine this week.

There are others, too. The Scooba is a floor washer unit that works like the Roomba, only with soap and water that scrubs tile, wood and concrete. The Mirra is a mechanized pool-cleaning robot, and the Looj will clean your gutters without falling off a ladder. Where did they come up with these names?
Perhaps the coolest iRobot product is the Create —a teaching unit that lets users program and design other uses for it. This is like a robotics class on the fly.

Other companies make more personal robots that function more like servants or companions for nerds. I found a fun robot called the Spykee. This guy is only about 10 inches tall, but he’s powerful.

Controlled by WiFi through your computer, he can take photos or videos and play music with a built-in MP3 player. He can hear what you say and speak to you. He can make phone calls over the internet, and he monitors your home with a built-in surveillance camera.

The only thing he can’t do is write a newspaper column. But that’s probably on tap in version 2.0.

Spykee costs about $400 from various online retailers. The big negative: you have to assemble him yourself. Since most folks are barely capable of setting up a home computer, this could pose problems for the non-engineers out there.

My favorite robot of all is pictured above. The Litter Robot is the world’s first automatic cat box and cleaning system. Apparently, you just put a plastic bag into the bottom and the robot cleans and disposes of the cat waste.

I have no idea how this robot actually persuades aloof felines to climb inside, but for cat lovers, it’s worth checking out.

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