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ATPM 13.05
May 2007


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by Mark Tennent,

Pimp My Robot

Sometimes life is too short to do boring things. Our office is within a mile of the town center, just off the seafront in sunny West Worthing. Snow? What snow? This town used to be seriously uncool but now it is the secret jewel of Sussex, only ten minutes commuting time on from Brighton. I spent last week mowing the lawns because the grass was so long it had bent double. Four grass boxes full, quadruple a normal summertime load. I would much rather have gone for a lunchtime walk along the prom, round the pier, and back via Marks and Sparks for a sandwich and some milk.

What I needed was a robot grass cutter, but I doubt it would have been able to tackle the rough pasture our lawns had become. Unlike their robotic siblings, the vacuum cleaners, which are so good that I cannot understand why every home and office doesn’t have one.


We got our first iRobot Roomba last November, bought direct from the US—where, like Amazon and eBay USA, we buy a lot of kit to avoid the inflated prices we see in Britain, a.k.a. Treasure Island. Google for stores selling the kit, telephone them, pay by card, and arrange shipping to the UK. Not forgetting the six- or seven-hour time difference, as I did the first time I called Montreal and woke the shop owner from deep sleep in the early hours. The cost of the robot plus delivery was about a hundred quid ($200 at publication time). Major manufacturers selling in Europe such as Electrolux, Samsung, and Karcher are also doing them now but at a rip-off six to nine times the price, and many look like rebadged iRobots.

These cleaning robots seem flimsy at first, but turn them over to see the heavy-duty industrial motors and power packs. Set them to work and they happily scurry around from room to room, cleaning far better than we could ever be bothered with a standard vacuum cleaner. When we empty the robot’s waste bin it seems to have found a never-ending source of horsehair from our oak floors. Our robot has a strange relationship with the nest of snakes that live under our desks, and we find ourselves arranging furniture to suit the robot. He is often to be found “mounting” the base of our circular table as well. Best of all, he automatically takes himself back to his recharge station so all we do is press the start button and leave him to do the house and office all by himself.

Of course it had to happen. There are already magazines, books, and various Web sites telling how to hack the robot. The manufacturers even make one with a USB port. We anthropomorphise our little chap, but some owners have taken things to the extreme, pimping their robots to ridiculous extremes. We haven’t gone quite that far, just found ours a corner to live in and chat to him as he buzzes around cleaning up after us. We are planning to get him a little friend, the iRobot Scooba that washes the floor as well as cleaning. If it could clean out my hard disks every now and again, so much the better.

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Reader Comments (2)

Paul Barker · May 3, 2007 - 14:35 EST #1
You mention your lawn needing a robotic grass cutter - there are lots out there that boast the ability to handle rough terrain and slopes. for example...
i haven't bothered trying one out as of yet, because i think it would just end up being a chew toy for our dogs.
Mark Tennent (ATPM Staff) · May 3, 2007 - 15:46 EST #2
It was more the length of the grass. From the robot lawn mowers I've seen, they would disappear never to be seen again. Now if there were a machete-swinging one...

(Plus there was a little artistic licence :-) )

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