21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online by Scientific American

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Example text

Some of Aibo’s other feats, however, failed to awe me, perhaps because the robot’s lifelike behavior had unduly raised my expectations. The machine has two microphones in its head and voice-recognition software that can respond to simple commands. If you tell Aibo to say hello, it will either bow or wave its paw. If you say, “Let’s dance,” the robot will play a snatch of music and do a four-legged jig. But very often I had to shout the commands a few times before the digital dog would pay attention.

Trilobite features a more powerful and rug-friendly vacuum; a sonar to detect obstacles, so it seldom actually makes contact with anything; and a position tracker, so it can return to its home base and plug itself in when it needs a charge. On the minus side, it lacks an edge detector, relying instead on magnetic strips that you lay around danger spots. Worse, its price, 14,000 kroner (about $1,500), is not likely to pass the spouse test. Watching these robots bumble around gives you a new appreciation for how difficult housework really is.

T. Four years ago he and mechanical engineer Paul Sandin finally got company backing to turn it into a product. Roomba is roughly the size of a car hubcap and weighs about six pounds. The main cleaning mechanism is basically a Bissell carpet sweeper—one of those rug cleaners that is often found (and sometimes used) in college dorm rooms. A zigzagging wire forms a cage to keep the rotating brush from choking on the corners of rugs. A miniature weed whacker on the side flicks dust away from the base of walls.

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21st Century Robotics (Scientific American Special Online by Scientific American
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