I don’t remember exactly when Roomba, the vacuum robot, was first introduced. It must have been more than 20 years ago because we were still in our 3-story townhouse in Boston. We didn’t have any dogs yet. We were still deep into a world full of cats, maybe a couple of ferrets too. Regardless, the television was full of advertisement for this the exciting new robot vacuum.
I had my doubts. Roomba didn’t look likely to do much in the cleaning department. Cat hair is notoriously pernicious. The most powerful vacuum cleaners are hard put to pull it out of rugs and furniture. I had curtains I knew would never come clean. When I would finally took them down, their next stop would be the trash. The hair of the cats was so embedded in the fabric, nothing would make them clean again.
Still, Roomba was tempting, though not for the advertised reason. Those early versions of Roomba were not terribly expensive, less than $100 (or maybe just a little more?) and both Garry and I were still working. It didn’t seem a lot of money for something that might provide a great deal of amusement.
Amusement? What about cleaning?
None of us expected Roomba to actually clean. Just looking at its design and its lack of power, I doubted it would do much of anything … but it might absolutely drive the cats bonkers. The amusement factor alone could make it worth the price. Big Guy, Spanky and Pookie would get crazy and we hoped drive us to paroxysms of laughter. Big Guy was already completely obsessed with electric trains and slot cars, so a robot vacuum cleaner seemed the logical next step.
I ordered one. With mounting excitement, we unpacked Roomba and charged him up. Given his very small size compared to the amount of animal hair and other dust and dirt, he didn’t look likely to accomplish much, but we weren’t expecting much … at least not in the way of cleaning. Our amusement expectations were far higher, though.
Sadly, neither cleaning nor hilarity ensued. Roomba got stuck under every chair, every piece of furniture. He did not navigate around obstacles nor did he climb onto the area rugs to clean them. He didn’t even change direction when he bounced into a wall. Poor little thing just sat there, chugging hopelessly while the cats turned up their collectively snooty feline noses and walked away, tails high with disdain.
He cleaned nothing and proved a poor source of amusement. What we nowadays refer to as “a waste of money.” But the idea was good.
I’m assuming, now that there are so many models of Roomba and his companion that supposedly scrubs floors … and the price is hundreds of dollars more for even the most basic model, that the technology has improved.
Frankly, I’m skeptical. Roomba was not merely not quite good enough. Roomba was useless. Even when he actually managed to find a piece of floor flat enough and uncluttered enough to attempt to clean, he didn’t pick up enough dirt to make a noticeable dent in the dust and dirt.
He was eventually consigned to a box in a corner and ultimately thrown out with other stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ll be charitable and suggest maybe Roomba has improved during the past 20 years … but unless someone gives me one for free, I’ll stick with traditional vacuums cleaners. Because they actually suck dirt.
I’m sure the day of the robot will come. But I don’t think it’s here yet. Where’s Robby when we need him?