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Roomba Rocks my House!

OK, so today we’re not having a rant session. Instead, I’ve gotta spiel about something Really Good.

So for background, I’ve got this really crappy chronic back thing that pretty much just sucks big fat hairy moss covered rocks. I’ve pretty much adapted my life to this, and have figured out how to do most things, found some new things to do (I can keep my wheelchair in a wheelie for something like 20 minutes now), and pretty much stopped doing some things. However, there are some things that I should Just Give Up, but they simply need to get done. I live alone, so housekeeping type things are pretty much something I have to do on my own. Some of them are OK, most of them I’ve figured out solutions for, but vacuuming and sweeping are two chores that I just couldn’t make work.

Imagine if you will: you grab the broom, and warn the dust bunnies: Hunting Season is open. You take a firm grip on your weapon of choice, and take a casual swipe at a piece of floor. Suddenly, and invisible tribe of angry dwarves decides that its time to flay the living flesh off of every part of your body below your navel. All of it. In about a tenth of a second. And while they’re at it, they’re gonna grind any bones they find into small bits of powder. No joke. When you can see again, the little bastards have disappeared. Good thing, because if you ever get your hand on those little f***s they’ll wish they had stayed in the forest playing with Snow White (come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like such a bad life…). OK, so maybe you were a bit too aggressive with the broom. Lets try a gentle poke at that bit of dust over there. Hey! that was a bit better. This time all they did was pour hot melted lead down every vein and nerve in your lower back, legs and genitals. If you ever mange to catch those little shits, they’re gonna end up as specimens in the local vivisectionist lab. You decide that the floor isn’t really that dirty after all, and go take some random pills from the pharmacy that has collected in your kitchen cabinet, and go find the bed before you pass out. Speaking of drugs, the docs just don’t understand that I only take pills when I’m so racked out that being unconscious is the only option, and they keep on giving me free samples and prescriptions that I fill for “just in case”. I’ve got a ton of different meds that all make me feel better, but leave me so doped up that I can’t function. Last time I tried one of the meds, I ended staring at my fish tank all day. Literally. Forgot to eat, forgot everything I was supposed to do that day, and was pretty much a vegetable for about 30 hours. I did manage to remember to go to the bathroom though. Gotta find the bright things in life sometimes…..

Anyway, back to the whole floor cleaning thing. We know that sweeping the kitchen just ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Same for the bathroom. Hmmm. I do have a vacuum cleaner, and it should work on floors too. Come to think of it, the carpets are looking pretty crappy. A large very furry sheep dog can make a mess of the carpet just by walking by. If he decided to take a nap in a pile of sawdust in the woodshop, the Living Dust Mop will carry the majority of the pile to where ever he happens to decide to sleep next…. So, a cautious approach to the vacuum. Stop for some Anti-Dwarf thoughts. Well, lets see. It’s self propelled, so I shouldn’t have to push or pull on it. If I can keep my arms close to my body, maybe this will work. Plug in, turn on. So far so good. Hey, just turning it on has cleaned a little bit of the carpet all by itself! This is progress! A gentle push to engage the drive mechanism, and those goddamn little dwarves are back. I wish they weren’t so friggin fast. I never even see them…..

In any case, for the past year or so, I’ve been cleaning all of my floors and carpets with a dust buster. Did I mention that my apartment is about 1,500 square feet. Sure, its a lot more comfortable to work on my hand and knees, and that seems to confuse the dwarves enough so that they only come out now and then. Dwarf avoidance is A Good Thing. Still, it takes me the better part of a day to vacuum the apartment. Did I mention the dog? He hates the vacuum , and will move to the farthest possible point in the apartment when its running. That means that if I start in the bedroom, he’s in the living room. When I do the kitchen, He’s hiding in the shop.  When I’m vacuuming the living room, he’s back in the bedroom, and has turned the bedroom rug back into a mess of hair, sawdust, and whatever random detritus he’s dragged in from outside. That means that my floors stay clean for about a day, then it looks as if they haven’t been cleaned in a month. I managed to extend the “clean time” to a few days by only vacuuming one room a day, but the dog still manages to trash the place PDQ.

This was getting old. Not to mention more and more painful. Futility is something I live with, so the uselessness of vacuuming didn’t bother me too much. In any case, I finally accepted that the floors just are not something I can handle any more. This is a huge concession. You gotta understand that I’m stupid stubborn, very independent, and insist on believing that I can lead a more or less normal life despite the fact that the meat part of me just doesn’t work. So, a simple compromise is: Get A Maid. I hate the concept for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that I’m a grumpyanti-social hermit who only allows very few very special people into my home. If you make it past my front door, you’ve scored major points. If you’re invited back, your one in a thousand. If you get a key, your one of maybe 5 people in the world. That means that letting a complete stranger into my home on a regular basis is a BIG DEAL. But the dog hair is getting so thick, I can’t really tell what color the carpet is anymore….. So I start making phone calls. After about 3 weeks, I finally get someone that will come take a look at the place. I explain that all I want is someone to come take care of the floor. I still dust, clean the bathroom, do my own dishes, etc. Just sweep, vacuum, and mop. That’s it. After a nice cup of tea and about 40 minutes of conversation, the Nice Lady explains that her agency would be glad to take care of my floor, but that they have to bill for at least 2 hours every time they come, so they’d have to charge $50.00 for each visit. She agrees that there’s only about 45 minutes worth of work, but you see, my disability income is too high to qualify for any of the subsidies programs for the disabled (My disability benefit is about 80% of the federal poverty level, but thats a Rant for another day), so that’s the best deal she can offer. This is the cheapest agency I can find, because they are a non-profit whose goal is to help disabled and elderly people stay in their homes instead of having to move into assisted living. Great organization, wonderful people, but $50 a week is my food budget. I guess I can have clean floors or eat…..

Back to the Dust Buster.

Fast forward to my semi-annual doc visit. Let me start by saying that my physiatrist is a great woman, who has done more for me in the past three years than all of the specialists put together over the past 15 years. Great lady, actually seems to understand the issues of living with a disability, and really does her best to find workable solutions. The only doc I’ve dealt with that recognizes that I’m a person and not a set of symptoms and a diagnosis. After the required “you aren’t doing enough PT, you need to work on this, your gait is deteriorating, you spend to much time in your chair, lets try (yet another) round of PT, and, oh yeah, things aren’t likely to get better no matter what we do” lecture, we get to the part of the visit where we talk about the issues I have with day to day life. In the past these have revolved around issues of mobility, adapting to life on crutches, then in a wheelchair, ways to extend the amount of time I can be up and about instead of flat on my back, and so on. This time, the big topic was vacuuming. We discussed maid options, and agreed that finances just wouldn’t work (side note: before I had disability, this doc treated me FOR FREE for over two years. She found labs, PT providers, and surgeons that would treat me for free too. There are still some good docs out there that go way beyond what they have to do). The conversation moved on to what types of vacuums might work – canister vs. upright, self propelled vs. manual, etc. End result was that she insisted that it was stupid for me to be trying to clean my own floors (remember that stupidly stubborn bit? I wasn’t kidding). Enter technology.

Being a bit of a geek and techno-weenie, I have been aware of the appearance of robotic tools in the home. For the most part, I have viewed them as pretty cool non-functional items with a high gizmocity factor. They may not do the job they’re supposed to do very well, but damn, they’re cool. In any case, the loss of income that goes with living on disability has removed the opportunities I used to have to occasionally drop obscene amounts of money on cool toys. Remember X-10? Enter the beauty of the bureaucracy that runs our country and our disability and medicaid programs. Turns out that almost any device that allows a patient (that’s me) to stay out of assisted living (which is very expensive, and medicaid has to pay for, if its needed) is essentially free, as long as a doc says its necessary to keep said patient at home and out of assisted living.Well, it turns out that I’m not the only crip out there having a bitch of a time keeping my floors clean. Also turns out that there is a really cool toy with major Gizmocity factor out there that is a robotic vacuum cleaner. No shit. This company that makes robotic mine sweepers for the military decided that a decent public sector application of the same technology would be a vacuum cleaner, and by gum, they designed, built, and marketed it, and its been on the shelves for a coupla years now.

The first version of the Roomba (that’s what they call it) didn’t suck very much. Not good for a vacuum cleaner, which is supposed to suck a lot. Turns out this company actually listened to their customers, and released a second version with an updated battery pack, and bigger suckage, and it is blowing the doors off the competition. As matter of fact, according to my web research, the only product that is better retails for something like $1,500. The Roomba is about $300 if you buy it from their web site, but Sears has it for $270.

Doc does the bureaucratic magic to make getting a Roomba essentially free, so, WTF, the price is right, and those goddamn little dwarves probably can’t do much to a robot…… So it’s been three days since I got my Roomba. I tried it in the kitchen first, and it took about an hour to do the whole floor (which is a long time, but is still faster than I can do it), and the results were great. It missed a couple of the smaller corners and nooks and crannies, but 5 minutes with Mr. Dust Buster got them taken care of. Now for the real test. The living room. 20 by 30 feet of medium pile rug, that hasn’t had a real cleaning in about a month. Wads of dog hair all over the place. Lots of furniture (and Legos) to maneuver around.

I had to empty the (small) dust bin 3 times before it finished, but it did a great job. And its quiet. Not only could I work on the ‘puter in the same room with it, but the Great Chicken-Dog (who is afraid of almost every appliance in the house) stood around and watched the Roomba while it cleaned. He finally got nonchalant enough to lay down and take a nap, and when Mrs. Roomba bumped into him, he calmly got up and moved to another part of the room – pretty much the same thing he does when he’s in my way and I make him move. Mrs. Roomba simply turned around and continued her search algorithm.

In conclusion…. It seems that Home Robotics has finally reached a point where there is a practical and working home robot. Don’t get me wrong – the Roomba isn’t going to completely replace a real vacuum cleaner. It runs on battery, and therefore cannot have a supercharged motor that really sucks hard. So, it gets away with sucking medium hard instead. in any case, it suck hard enough to get the surface dirt out of the carpets. I expect that every couple of months I’ll have to drag out the real vac and go over all the carpets to give them a deeper cleaning, but I can keep the dwarves at bay with appropriate medication. I figure I can dose myself into oblivion and vacuum a few times a year. Mrs. Roomba can take care of the floor the rest of the time. And if the dwarves *do* start going after her, just remember you little shits: she’s based on a military ‘bot. Search and destroy is part of her circuits.

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2 Responses

  1. THIS was a cool story for me to read – and I’m forwarding it to Mr. Chili, who worked on the design and development of the Roomba. I shit you not. He also spent time working on the military search-and-destroy robots (one of which was designed to explode bombs for the English military) and that robot they sent down into the shaft in the pyramid in Egypt (which, disappointingly, never actually saw anything of interest).

    We have something like four Roombas at home though, through the “the cobbler’s kids never have shoes” principle, none of them is currently functional; they’re more like Frankenstein toys, but whatever. My favorite bit about them? The fun patterns they leave on the carpets as they make their meandering way around the room. Wanna have REAL fun? Get two; they bounce off of each other and make short work of big rooms…

    I’m really sorry about the dwarves. Bastards….

  2. Cool. Love to see how two interact, but at about 3 bills each, it just ain’t gonna happen….

    Wonder what happens if you fill a room with a whole bunch of them?

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