Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Roomba

My formative years were the 1970s. One of my favorite Saturday morning cartoons in those days (and apparently still a real favorite) was the Jetsons. George Jetson and his family (think: "His boy, Elroy", "Daughter Judy" and "Jane, his wife") lived in appropriately futuristic cloud cities and drove about in some sort of repulsorcraft. Homelife was managed by "Rosie the Robot", who would bring George his slippers and, ahem, a cigar, upon his arrival home from a hard day's work at Spacely Sprockets.

We all, of course, thought that the Jetson's way of life would be our way of life in the way too distant future -- the Year 2000 [insert spooky future-sounding music here]. Sad to say (I guess), the Year 2000 (or as we came to know it ad nauseum, Y2K) came and went with nary a flying car to be seen. So much for our hopes of Rosie-like robotic labor saving devices. But not so fast! Alt-Ctrl-Del contributor Trajan (aka, my brother Bill), generously gave us an iRobot Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner for Christmas. I tried it out for the first time yesterday and it really does work. This little guy -- who instantly became my 5 year old son's best friend of the moment -- is about the diameter of a large frisbee and about as thick as a dog's water bowl. It moves about on 2 driving and 1 steering wheel and has a front bumper that tells it when it hits something, causing it to change directions. Sure, it bumps around all over the place and takes a long time to do the vacuuming, but hey, that's the key -- ROOMBA's doing the vacuuming, not me! My hope is to get Roomba going just before bedtime and arrive downstairs in the morning to a clean floor; however, I am not naive enough to believe that its always going to be that way. But if I can get it to work most of the time, then I think its a real plus.

This brings me to my final point here. We all grew up thinking that the world of George Jetson would someday just appear out of whole cloth: robots would do the hard work, flying cars would be everywhere and pictures phones would be the norm. At first blush, it appears that none of this has happened. Yet, look around you: Roomba's are cleaning floors. Roomba's first cousins are assembling automobiles; picture phones are as easy as buying a $29.95 Logitech eyeball camera from CompUSA and hooking it up to your PC and using it with AOL Instant Messenger. In fact, you are able to read what I have written here, despite the fact that I have never printed this document on paper. In short, we are a lot closer to the world of George Jetson than we would, at first blush, think, and most of those developments have been in only the last 10-12 years. Just think what the next 20 years are going to bring. My kids will be able to tell their kids about how the cars they drove in while growing up actually had wheels!

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