DON'T CRY OVER SPILLED DETERGENT if you have the Roomba floor cleaner, the first home robot that is both genuinely useful and reasonably priced. It won't completely relieve you of vacuuming duties, though. The robot is about 10 inches (25 centimeters) in diameter. Image: BETH PHILLIPS
For generations, tinkerers have been pointing out how much their projects will lighten the load of housework. For generations, spouses and parents have failed to be impressed by these claims. When I built my first robot seven years ago, people kept asking, "So what does it do?" I explained that it would eventually vacuum the floor. I should have just been honest: "Not much, but it sure is cool, isn't it?" All these years later I still have trouble getting my creations to do the most basic things, like move in a straight line. My professions of usefulness don't carry much weight around the house anymore.
At least I am not alone. Seldom in the history of technology has an industry been so eagerly anticipated, and so slow to emerge, as the consumer robot industry. Back in the early 1980s, when computers were turning from hobbyist playthings into mass-market appliances, it looked
This article was originally published with the title Robots That Suck.