Rosie the Robot in 2016
The Jetsons in 1962 sold a dream to many people about Rosie the Robot – a sweet and caring robot that takes care of all household chores. Just imagine how easy life will be if you don’t have to spend your precious weekends washing piles of dishes, doing laundry or cleaning toilet bowls. More than 50 years have passed and Rosie the robot still remains a dream. Despite exponential growth of technology in recent years, many experts believe that robots which can perform many tasks such as household chores will not become reality anytime soon. 
One of the closet robots to Rosie the Robot that we have today is Roomba. Introduced by iRobot in 2015, Roomba 980 has intelligence navigation capability based on VSLAM (Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) and wireless integration with smartphone app. 
In previous version before Roomba 980, the machine moves randomly and relied mainly on sensor to change direction before steps or to avoid obstacles. The new device is equipped with a camera that captures images of a room and a software to map out surrounding environment over time. The map is used to make sure that Roomba cleans the room properly in the most efficient route and enable the machine to go back to charging station by itself when the battery is low. It also has sensor to recognize the floor surface such as carpet and adjust its power accordingly . The integration with phone app offers extra benefits. It allows users to set cleaning level and timing for Roomba – which means that the device will do the work even when you are not at home.
Roomba is one of the first household devices that truly utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning. Though the technology of simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) has been around for many years, it was not an easy task to commercialize it given large computing power required. Being able to embed a computer system into a small device at affordable pricing ($899) has differentiated iRobot among its competitors .
Going rapidly from revenue of $299M in 2010 to $617M in 2015 , iRobot continues facing challenges to innovate and stay relevant in the market:
- Privacy: Together with camera and internet connection capability, there is a growing concern of privacy issue among users. Currently, iRobot addresses this concern by using a low resolution camera and the map is deleted after Roomba finishes cleaning a room. However, with long term memory, Roomba can classify and remember if an obstacle is permanent and temporary and knows what will be the fastest way to clean up a room. In addition, a house map can be shared across multiple devices in the future to coordinate and optimize processes. It’s a constant trade-off between efficiency and privacy that iRobot has to take into consideration.
- Affordability: The current pricing of ˜$900 for a vacuum cleaning robot is expensive when benchmarking with a typical vacuum cleaner of $200-300. To continue expand their market and capture more share, iRobot has to improve their technology while reduce cost to remain competitive in a globalized market.
- Functionality: Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot articulated a vision of “not so distant future, when your whole home is a robot” . IRobot has expanded their products from vacuum cleaning to mopping and outdoor cleaning, however it still targets only a small set of activities in the household. Expanding their product portfolio to address multiple areas will require a technology breakthrough for iRobot.
A future where human is free from cooking, washing and cleaning is hopefully not-so-distant for us and players such as iRobot is playing an active role to bring that future closer.
 Fortune, “Rosie the Robot won’t be cleaning your house anytime soon”, http://fortune.com/2016/06/24/rosie-the-robot-data-sheet/, Jun 2016
 IEEE Spectrum, “iRobot brings visual mapping and navigation to the Roomba 980”, http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/home-robots/irobot-brings-visual-mapping-and-navigation-to-the-roomba-980, Sep 2015
 Ars Technica, “iRobot’s Roomba 980 maps your home while making your floors sparkle”, http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/09/irobots-roomba-980-maps-your-home-while-making-your-floors-sparkle/, Sep 2015
 MIT Technology Review, “The Roomba now sees and maps a home”, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/541326/the-roomba-now-sees-and-maps-a-home/, Sep 2015
 iRobot website, “Investor information”, http://investor.irobot.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=193096&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2137285, accessed Sep 2016
 Boston Business Journal, “iRobot CEO on tech’s future: Imagine your whole home as a robot”, Jun 2016
Student comments on Rosie the Robot in 2016
Great post! I purchased my first Roomba 3 years ago with no digital camera. One of the issues I had was it cannot find its way back if the charging station was not properly set up. Also, the first pass of cleaning tends to be very quick and ineffective. It will only work and clean better starting the second time. I am curious if this has to do with the fact that Roomba has to scan the room and collect data during the first pass. If that is the case, it probably will maintain that memory during the second pass for better performance.
It is definitely interesting to see the improvements Roomba has made throughout the year including the remote control over the phone. I will be interested to see if there are other revolutions within housekeep domain.
I recently came across an article in which CEO executive, Mark Zuckerberg, explained why he covers his lap top camera (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/23/technology/personaltech/mark-zuckerberg-covers-his-laptop-camera-you-should-consider-it-too.html?_r=0). Privacy at home might be in question, but I still personally find the Roomba unbelievably innovative. It may not be entirely effective yet, but the fact that we have automated devices patrolling our homes while we are away is awe inspiring. Yes, the Roomba is relatively “dumb,” but after our TOM case on IBM’s Watson, I can’t help but imagine the possibilities that are undoubtedly just around the corner.
I own one of the old Roombas without the navigation camera. I have often been frustrated with its random movement pattern, and you would frequently find me yelling “BAD ROOMBA!” across the room as it tried for the 15th time to inhale my iPhone charger. The presence of a scary loud robot combined with my yelling confused my poor yellow lab, who would cower at my feet every time I needed to vacuum the area where I spilled the Cheerios and M&Ms I was eating for dinner.
Thus, I really think that the navigating camera will be a huge improvement in customer experience, and Roxy (my dog) will really appreciate it too.