The Moving Hoover Hooveth

Would you buy a vacuum cleaner just for your cat to play with? After my wife watched some videos on YouTube where kittens were chasing and sitting on top of one of those robotic UFO-shaped vacuum cleaners, I was informed in no uncertain terms that we should have one for our two cats to play with.

And by happy coincidence it was coming up to my wife’s birthday, so it seemed like an obvious gift choice. But here’s the problem – these days it seems like giving household necessities as gifts is a thing of the past. If I bought my wife a new ironing board as a Christmas present I’m sure I’d be in the dog-house.

Is this something that’s gradually changed over the years? I can remember, many years ago when I worked in a hardware store, that our Christmas window displays were full of useful gift ideas. Power tools, a lawnmower, or a toolbox complete with a comprehensive range of wood screws for him; and for her a washing machine, the latest design in enamel saucepans, and deluxe sets of clear cookware. And, of course, an ironing board.

But casting fears aside, and taking my chance in the domestic relationship stakes, I bought an iRobot cleaner and presented it to my good lady on the day. And, thankfully, she was delighted. However, the nub of this week’s post is that, having added yet another computer-controlled example of modern technology to our household, I can’t just relax. As a typical geek, I need to know how it works.

OK, so I know that it learns the shape of rooms by bumping into things. But the fact that it slows right down before it bumps into something indicates there must be some other sensors in use. And how does it find its way back to the charging station when it’s not in line of sight? From memory? It’s not as though it follows any pattern that you can figure out as it seemingly randomly navigates its way from room to room. And every now and then it flashes up a message that it’s “spot cleaning” some area. How does it recognise the bits that need extra cleaning?

So much for thinking it would save me time. Instead of hoovering myself, now I have to follow it around pondering on the program it’s running and trying to figure out how it does it. It even seems to have a sense if fun. After pushing the tray containing the cats’ food dishes into the middle of the hallway, much to the chagrin of the cat who was watching at the time, it managed to find one of the table tennis balls the cats occasionally deign to pat across the floor. For several minutes it carefully nudged the ball across the lounge carpet, into the hall, and finally lost it under a cupboard.

Maybe, after a few days, it won’t bother cleaning the floor and will just play ball with the cats instead. I could have bought them a clockwork mouse for a fraction of the price…


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