I Love Learning New Things – For Instance, I Just Learned That These Two Are A Bad Mix:

I love having “I didn’t know that!” moments.

It means I just learned something new, and that’s a good thing.

For instance, I recently learned that 75 milliliters is 2.5 ounces – a measly amount when a cosmetics company is charging a whopping $56 for 75 milliliters of face glop.

$22 an ounce?

I think not.

Even more recently, I learned something new in this Washington Post story:

I learned that if you have one of those Roomba robot vacuum things, and you have a dog, there’s a possibility certainty that if when your dog poops on the floor, the robot vacuum will slide into the dog poop and smear it all over your floor.

I’ll admit I was a bit was skeptical, until I read this article:

Which assured me that:

“You see, iRobot had a poop problem.  There are dozens if not hundreds of YouTube videos documenting the phenomenon, as a Roomba approaches a pile of fresh dog droppings, hovers over it a bit, and then makes a snail-like trail of fecal smears across the hardwood or carpet.  It’s honestly probably among the most widespread and unintentionally hilarious (depending on your point of view) consequences of mainstreaming robots.”

iRobot Corporation being the maker of Roomba robot vacuum cleaners since 2002.

I checked YouTube, and indeed – there appears to be a plethora of videos posted about this topic.

Because I care about you, I’ll share from just one:

In this brief sequence, we see that the robot vacuum making its approach…

Start smearing…

Mission accomplished:

The robot vacuum being unable to recognize and avoid the poop.

The robot vacuum now being permanently unusable.

Until now.

Until, says the Washington Post article, the debut of the…

“Roomba j7+, the latest version of iRobot’s popular home vacuum.”

The new $849 Roomba j7+ “claims to give customers ‘even more control over their clean,’ with a camera that can identify and avoid pet droppings.  Instead of smearing it all over the floor, the device will gracefully avoid the poop…”

Not just avoid it, but gracefully!

And not only that, the Roomba j7+ will…

“…snap a picture and text it to your phone if you’re out, the company says.”

I’m not sure if the Roomba j7+ is sending the picture to ask, “Shall I go through it or around it?” or possibly, “Just a heads-up – Woofer has left a sign of his affection for you in the family room,” but just imagine this scenario:

Thanks to the pandemic, you’ve been unemployed for almost a year.  You’ve finally – finally – landed an interview for a job you really – really – want.  And you think you’ve nailed it!

Your phone rings (you were so nervous that you forgot to put it on mute) and as you apologize to the interviewer, you grab your phone to shut it off, fumble, and accidentally drop it on her desk.  She sees this:

Interviewer:  Someone sent you a picture of poop?
You:  Ha!  It was a something!  My vacuum cleaner sent it!

End of interview.

But don’t despair!

iRobot created an entirely new division in their tech department, and you just might fit right in.

You see, before the folks at iRobot could teach their new vacuum how to recognize dog poop, avoid it, take pictures of it, and send said pictures to your phone…

It had to create, acquire and/or otherwise simulate beaucoup dog poop in its laboratory: 

According to iRobot CEO Colin Angle in this article,

“This is one of those stupid, glorious things.  I don’t know how many hundreds of models of poo we created out of Play-Doh and paint, and everyone [at iRobot] with a dog was instructed to take pictures whenever their dog pooed.  And we actually made synthetic models of poo to try to further grow our database.”

Here’s another Colin Angle quote, from the TechCrunch article:

Colin Angle and his Roomba j7+.

“The glorious career of roboticists may not have been fully realized when we were sending people home and creating hundreds of models of poo.  Sending people around to photograph and create synthetic models of poo.  I don’t know how many tens of thousands of images of all different shapes and sizes of synthetic images were required, but this is not demo code, clearly.

“You imagine it, we probably attempted it to grow a large enough database with both real images, images of fake poo and synthetic images that were manufactured of poop to serve as a training model for our robot.”

Frankly, Mr. Angle, I’d prefer not to imagine it.

In this article, Angle did admit that while they’ve mastered the dog poop problem,

“We can’t do pee,” says Angle.  “It has to have some 3D aspects to it.”

But with the poop – they’re solid.

This, says TechCrunch, takes the form of the “Pet Owner Official Promise (P.O.O.P.), which guarantees a free return for the new j7+ if the Roomba runs into (and over) a poop problem”:

Apparently Angle loves talking about this so much that he even made a 42-second video, starring himself, which includes many words of wisdom such as these:

What Angle doesn’t address in the video – or elsewhere – but some articles do, is concerns about privacy.

For instance, the Washington Post article references “the intimacy of the data” devices like the Roomba j7+ collect, and:

“‘People are used to thinking about whether Alexa is listening in on their house, or what the Ring doorbell is capturing outside, but they might not realize that the existence of a camera on their vacuum could present those same types of concerns,’ said Tom Williams, assistant professor of computer science at the Colorado School of Mines and director of the Mines Interactive Robotics Research Lab there.”

I pooh-pooh that concern.

Seriously, are you kidding?  Everyone knows that as soon as you joined Facebook, any vestiges of privacy you may have had are done, gone, finished!  Haven’t you seen the disclaimer on Facebook’s homepage?

So, to summarize:

  1. I’ve learned that an old Roomba and dog poop are a bad mix.
  2. I’ve learned that the new Roomba will gracefully avoid dog poop.
  3. I’ve learned that I’ve spent so much time and energy researching and writing about this that…

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