The Little Roomba Who Could. (Or At Least Tries Really Hard.)

roomba 2.5We have a new addition to our home. Jim has named her Robbie (we name everything). I think at first it was actually Robby…but then I heard her distress cry and realized he was a she. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Robbie is a Roomba. You know, one of those nifty little iRobot sweepers. The one that miraculously clears dust and debris from your floors whilst you sit on the couch eating bonbons. Except no. That’s not how it goes here.

In our household, a nifty little robotic floor sweeper has to run a terrifying obstacle course in an effort to perform its pre-programmed mission. And it must also have a chaperone. A diligent, mindful, always-aware chaperone even more dedicated than a teenage girl’s dad supervising his precious child’s first date to a school dance. Scary stuff, people.

And our little Robbie is coming of age in a fast, trial-by-fire manner. Bless her little mechanical heart. There was no way to warn her or to begin to prepare her for the challenges ahead.

I remember the day I first saw her there, on prominent display at Target. Oh sure, I had heard about Roombas before and dreamed of having one as my personal slave…um…assistant. But our house? A little robot that would surely be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dog hair, dirt, and dust that coats our floors? A whirring, erratic machine not much bigger than a Frisbee and certain to be viewed as a new chew toy by the four-legged members of the family?

Madness, I tell you, madness.

At least until I saw the magic word: SALE. Roomba was on SALE. And it was a good sale. And there was only one box left. One. One chance to experience sit-on-the-couch-and-raise-your-feet-as-she-passes-by bliss.

As I stared at the box that boasted the promise, “The helping hand you need to keep your floors thoroughly clean every day–all at the push of a button,” I could feel others lurking behind me. I was certain if I made one tiny move to the left or right, another shopper would swoop in to snag MY Roomba. MY on-sale Roomba.

So I snatched her up, held her close to my chest, and scurried through the store muttering, “Mine! It’s mine! All mine!” There may or may not have been high-pitched creepy laughter involved.

When I arrived home triumphant in my purchase, Jim solemnly shook his head and said something about a mighty pricy dog toy. Oh he of little faith. I would protect her. I would watch over her like the indentured little Cinderella I hoped she would become. Scary how easily I fell into that evil stepmother role, isn’t it?

So with my guarded, unfounded, blind optimism cheering him on, Jim unpacked little Robbie and set her out on her first mission, our herd of dogs paying rapt attention.

One dog (Kainan…110 pound hulk of a wolfdog) ran out of the room, tail tucked firmly between his hind legs. One dog (Tink…20 pound terror) immediately attacked the Roomba. The rest of the dogs just bounced around in front of it, over it, and all around it.

Within no time at all, we convinced Tink it did not need to die. We lured Kainan back into the room and convinced him that HE was not going to die. And the rest of the dogs lost interest. First hurdle cleared, right? Well…sort of.

You see, Robbie Roomba is an intelligent little machine designed to learn the floor plan of your home so that she can clean more efficiently. Problem is that my floor plan is ever-changing.

In case you don’t yet know us well, you need to know that we have a good number of dogs. Enough dogs to classify me as “a” crazy dog lady, but not quite enough to have me charged as “the” crazy dog lady. Once said herd of dogs no longer found Robbie’s presence entertaining, they fell into “ignore it” mode. You know, that same mode they fall into when you beg them to scootch over to give you more than eight inches of space on the bed.

As dear, determined Robbie blindly felt her way around our home, she bumped into a dog here, a dog there, here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. I can’t imagine what she must have thought.

Do these humans rearrange their furniture on an hourly basis just to torment me?

Am I on candid camera and I will soon be rescued, we’ll all laugh, and I’ll move on to a new home where there’s a modest arrangement of furniture and perhaps one quiet cat?

Sorry, dear Robbie. Fate dealt you a complicated hand.

So far, things are going pretty well. For a device no bigger than one of those stone-things they slide around on the ice in curling, Robbie is able to pick up an astonishing amount of dog hair. No, she doesn’t get all of it in one pass, but she works her little gears off in 50 minute spurts, following which she spends her remaining 10 minutes of battery life bumping and limping back to her home base for that all-important rest and recharge period.

Another huge bonus is that Robbie is willing (forced?) to go places that are really hard for me to reach and are therefore often neglected. The first time she dared venture under our king-size bed, well…let’s just say I heard unmistakable gasping, sputtering, wheezing, and, I believe, whimpering.

On a plus side for the dogs, Robbie unearths toys long-lost to these dark and distant places. Now, when she dares to go where no human has gone in months, the dogs gather in great anticipation for what little Robbie will shove into the light of day.  Balls, chew bones, and squeaky toys abound! What was old is now new again! All hail Robbie the robot!

On a down side, we have to address the elephant in the room. From poor Robbie’s perspective it might as well be the elephant dung in the room. Back to that number of dogs thing…we foster a lot of dog while they wait to find their adoptive homes. That means we house train a lot of dogs. That means there are accidents. Accidents are no bueno for Robbie.

This takes us back to the need for a chaperone thing. I believe the fine MIT grads who developed Robbie and her kind did so in the hope that floors could be cleaned while humans focused their valuable attention elsewhere. But alas, not in THIS house.

Dare I say I hover over Robbie’s every move? I do. I do so in an attempt to ward off certain disaster. Don’t make me say it. You know where I’m headed with this. There are some things Robbie should most definitely NOT run into.

I would like to tell you that it has never happened. I would REALLY like to. But on day two of this new relationship I turned my head for just a moment. A really important little moment. The very moment when our precious new foster puppy felt nature’s call and answered it…right in the path of dear Robbie.

I will spare you the gory details, but let’s just say that it’s fantastic how easily all of Robbie’s brushes and compartments come apart to be cleaned. And cleaned. And cleaned again for good measure. Kudos to you, MIT grads! Robbie was easily physically restored to her former, ready-to-roll condition. Alas, the emotional scars will likely forever be imbedded in her little artificial mind. A mercy reboot would only thrust her into a cruel 50 First Dates-esque learning curve that would prove too painful to witness.

Suffice it to say that we do not take advantage of Robbie’s ability to be programmed so she may roam the house freely while we are away at work. Nope. Not ever going to happen. I’m back to hovering and obsessively sweeping dog hair into her path.

Today I did learn of a new talent Robbie possesses. She can TALK! She can actually tell you where it hurts!

After surveying the living room for any potential Robbie landmines (and by landmines I mean…), I stepped away to eat a bonbon or something. After a few moments I heard, well, I heard nothing.  No whirring little engine-that-could noise. That is never a good sign in Robbie-land. Suddenly I heard a distinctly high-pitched female voice (hence the he-is-a-she revelation), calling for help.

I think she said something like, “For the love of all that is holy, come find me! I need help! I’m choking! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

Ok, it may have been a bit more like a monotone voice asking me to check the sweeping brushes for a clog, but I swear it sounded a tad whiny and offended. The crazy thing is that I don’t recall seeing ANYWHERE on the packaging that she could talk! Should I be nervous here?

Anyhow, I cleared the wad of hair from Robbie’s cute little underbelly (we had moved the couch and uncovered a whole new frontier of hair and detritus without warning her. Robbie was apparently not amused.), and sent Robbie back on her merry way.

You know, once we get a few things ironed out, I think this is going to be a beautiful relationship. In fact, Jim has suggested that we should invest in an army of Robbies and her wet-mopping cousins. Oh the fun we could have watching dozen of the little disks coursing hither and yon through our house and through the legs of any number of dogs. I dare say it would become something of a spectator sport, the iRobot Olympics.

In the meantime we will continue to nurture our firstborn, our Robbie. I will dust her, I will clean her brushes, I will help her avoid disaster, and I will feed her unimaginable amounts of dog hair. We’re in this together, kiddo.

Oh, hey Robbie, not to be rude, but you missed a spot over there. Wait! Come back here young lady! Do NOT turn your back on me! What did you just say?

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