I've known about the Roomba for a while. I've read reviews, seen demos and generally passively studied them since they came on the market. I'd never been compelled to buy one. Our house is laid out with one large great room that saves very little distinction between the living room, dining room or even the kitchen. I'd always suspected that the large size and varied furniture in this area would prove too difficult for a little robot to navigate.
As someone who's read up on robotics and artificial intelligence for years, my assumption is warranted. In my life time, self roaming robots could take hours and hours to cross a room under ideal conditions. I'm not going to thrown down here for the sake of my non-tech readers, but not only are computers a lot faster than they used to be, but there's been a bit of a revolution in AI programming. The mind set used to be "let's teach computers to think like us." That's a admirable goal, but it also turns out to be really hard.
If someone tried to build a Roomba, oh, 20 years ago they'd not only be dealing with a slower processor and less resources in general, but they'd also try to get the Roomba to "understand" the layout or the room, where the furniture was, and what path to take before the wheels ever started turning.
The more modern iteration, and this is all over-simplified, is to look at things like bugs. A roach has no clue about the layout of the room, but it's really good at crossing it. So, modern robots and AI routines tend to focus on the end result, and not how you get to it.
Phew. Sorry about that.
Anyway, my dad bought a Romba Scheduler. I watched it run around in my parents more complicated layout and it did a really good job. It even docked itself when the battery got low. Not to be out done, I now have both the Roomba Scheduler and the Scooba. A Scooba is a Roomba that mops hard floors.
They're awesome. Totally, completely and amazingly awesome. You pick up the floor in much the manner that you would to vacuum. You walk over to the Roomba and press "clean." Roomba then races around and cleans. As a bonus, it goes places your normal vacuum can never reach.
Now, it honestly can't deep clean carpet like my Dyson can. On carpeted floors like ours, this is more of a "maintenance" cleaning than anything else. It also takes a little longer to do the same area that a person could, but the great thing is you can do something else while the Roomba cleans the floors for you.
Scooba works a lot like Roomba, but it's louder and moves slower. It does a great job cleaning the floors though. I'd say in contrast to the Roomba, Scooba may actually be better at cleaning floors than a person with a mop. Scooba makes a pretty pitiful vacuum though, so ideally let Roomba sweep the floor before you let Scooba wash it.
All said, I'm sold on the robots as cleaning tools concept. iRobot, build them and I will buy.