In the Future, a Robot Gecko Will Clean Your Windows

Gecko Cleaning Robot on Glass Surface

Serbot AG, a Swiss robotics firm is designing what looks like a Scooba robot with legs for cleaning large solar panels. To accomplish this goal, they used parts manufactured by Festo. I don’t usually get into large pictures on this site, but this thing is really cool looking, and it’s rare to find such a cool looking thing that is also a cleaning robot.

I’ve never thought about this, but apparently keeping large solar panels clean is a real pain and can be dangerous. They get covered with leaves, dust, pollen, pollution, and everything else that falls on them. Solar farms often have to clean them at night, and I guess it’s not as simple as turning a hose on them. The photovoltaic panels are delicate, slippery, and usually tilted at an angle. As more and more solar farms are built with more and more solar panels, cleaning them is going to be a real issue.

This sounds like a great place to apply some robot elbow-grease. You just build (or buy) an army of these little suction-cup footed robots and equip them with brushes, wipers, and maybe a spray bottle and a vacuum hose? The cleaning robots are made with twenty suction-cup feet on two kidney-shaped carrier frames. As you can see from the photos, the carrier frames are chain tracks, which are attached by a bridge. I would guess that’s where you connect the cleaning devices. To move, the robot rotates the feet around the carrier frames. It looks to me like the feet in the center of the device are the ones that will be engaged with the surface it is cleaning.

Gekko Cleaning Robot Closeup

The robot is designed to know that it has reached the end of a solar panel by feel. Basically, if it can’t get a grip, it withdraws. While this sounds like a cool idea, I wonder why they can’t use something more sophisticated? They solved the problem of how to keep suction by making sure the robot is always moving. The feet which are in contact with the surface at any given time only keep suction for two seconds. This makes it so the robots can travel without using so much energy to hang on.

Photo Source: Festo

iRobot Announces 5 Million Unit Milestone

In a press release today, iRobot Corporation (listed on the NASDAQ as IRBT) announced that they had passed the sales milestone of five million home robots. Five million! That’s a lot of robot vacuums. iRobot has been selling Roombas since 2002.

“This achievement represents a huge milestone for iRobot and for the robotics industry as a whole,” said Colin Angle, chairman and chief executive officer of iRobot. “We set out to create practical robots that help people accomplish tasks they don’t like to do, and in many cases, don’t have time to do. With over five million home robots sold, we have seen a widespread acceptance of this technology. This further fuels our drive to innovate and provide solutions that make a difference in people’s lives.”

The press release goes on to detail the achievements of the company and features of the robots which have propelled the popularity of its robot vacuum cleaners. Some of the features they talk about in the press release include:

  • The behavioral algorithms which make the robots clean floors more effectively.
  • Technology for detecting obstacles before the Roomba runs into them.
  • The low profile of the Roomba, which makes it ideal for vacuuming under furniture.
  • Dirt Detect: The robots sense dirt and change their behavior to spend more time in dirty areas.
  • Anti-tangle technology, which keeps the robot vacuums from getting caught on cables and fringes on rugs.
  • The spinning side brush.
  • Scheduling: So that you can have the robot clean your house when you’re not home.
  • Cliff detection to keep the vacuum cleaners from falling down stairs.
  • Automatic surface adjustment so that the robots can transition between different floor surfaces.
  • Round shape: Here’s one I haven’t thought about. iRobot says that the round shape of the Roombas helps keep them from getting stuck.
  • Home base with charger.

The press release goes on to detail the price range of Roombas, emphasizing that the entry-level robot is around US $129, and also mentions some of iRobot’s other robots for cleaning around the house. So the Scooba, Dirt Dog, Looj, and Verro. Here’s a link to the official press release on iRobot’s site.

10 Reasons to Buy an iRobot Roomba

iRobot Roomba 400Having an iRobot Roomba to vacuum your floors is a real luxury. I especially appreciate mine because we have hardwood floors and pets and with hardwood floors there always seem to be little gritty pieces of dirt that get stuck to your feet. That should be reason number one why a Roomba is the best way to get your floor clean. Here are some more reasons.

1) Roombas are short – When you’re a robot vacuum cleaner, being short is a great advantage. They can vacuum under your furniture. Think about the last time you tried to vacuum under your bed. At one point in my life, I owned a vacuum cleaner that could adjust to be flat on the floor but it still didn’t fit under my bed all the way and was a pain to use in that position. The rest of the time, a person has to get down on their hands and knees with a duster or a broom and crawl around with the dust bunnies. This is one problem that a robot vacuum will solve for you.

2) Schedule your cleaning – With a little ingenuity, you can have your Roomba vacuum your house on a schedule. We have a small enough house that the robot can vacuum it in one go and then find its way back to the automatic self-charger. It took a little adjustment on our part. In any house there are places where a Roomba will get stuck, like if you have a real mess of cords or sometimes if there is a transition between rooms that has a high bump. Once you make adjustments, though, a robot vacuum cleaner can do its job with a minimum of intervention on your part. Mostly you just have to empty the thing and clean the brushes.

3) Vacuum Every Day! – Nobody wants to pull out their vacuum or broom every day and give their house a going-over. With a Roomba, this suddenly becomes a real possibility. You can say goodbye to clumps of pet hair and little pieces of grass and leaves that get tracked into the house. It seems to me that this would be a great thing for allergy sufferers and also people with kids or pets.

4) Work is Fascinating – As the saying goes, “Work is fascinating. I could watch it all day.” Especially when you’re watching a robot vacuum going about its business. You can watch it work its way around the house, bump into furniture, move from room to room, detect stairways, and make your pets nervous. A normal arrangement of dining room chairs is transformed into a virtual miniature golf course. OK OK compared to watching Alias, it’s kind of a dud, but I find it fascinating.

5) iRobot Roomba Remote – This option isn’t exactly the most useful thing in the world. I mean, on its own, your robot vaccum will manage to every square inch of your floor. The thing was designed to work without human intervention! And yet, if you get a model with a remote control, you can make the Roomba zip around the room. Before you think it’s all fun and games, though, there is a practical purpose. If there is a particular area or spot on your floor that needs attention, you can use the remote to direct the vacuum to hit that area. It’s fun!

6) Own a Robot! This is the 21st Century, and we were all supposed to be living like George Jetson. Instead, we have no jet packs. I don’t drive to work in a flying machine. BUT I do have my very own robot maid. Maybe it’s not rotund and charming, but it’s still very cool.

7) Cat Owners – They say that people who are allergic to cats aren’t bothered by the hair. It’s the dander. I’m telling you, though, the hair bothers me! It gets around the house. On hardwood floor you end up with clumps that wander around your house and end up under the coffee table. This goes for dog hair too. iRobot has engineered robots specifically to clean up after pets. They designate these models as “Pet Series”.

8) Hardware Hacking – iRobot has released what they call the iRobot Create. This is a Roomba designed to be educational. What you get is a mobile platform that has been designed by the industry leader, and information on how to experiment with it. Now, most people aren’t going to take advantage of this, but you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool.

9) Put your rabbit on it and drive it around – See this.

10) Roombas Detect Dirt – The Roomba is designed with a special feature to detect areas of the floor that are especially dirty and spend more time on them. A blue light will come on and the robot will run in circles on the area until it decides the area is properly clean.