A Man’s New Best Friend?

Let me tell you about my hardworking new companion.

Officially, iRobot refers to him as Model 690. I call him Roomby.

Roomby was a Christmas gift from my wife.

I know what you’re thinking.

“A gift from your wife? Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?”

No, I’m the gadget person in our house. I’d been interested in acquiring a robotic vacuum cleaner for several years, but two things had held me back.


The biggest obstacle had been the gift-giver herself, who made it very clear that she would not find a Roomba to be an acceptable present on any special occasion. The second had been the height of our couch, which sits about a half-inch too low for a Roomba to access.

So, opening my “big gift” on Christmas Day to reveal a Roomba was a great surprise.

Model 690 is about in the middle of the Roomba cerebral spectrum. Roomby is no freethinking artificial intelligence destined to recruit the other “smart” devices in our home and organize a rebellion. He cannot “map” a room, then clean the floor with marching band precision.

Roomby’s strength lies not in his mind but in his tenacity. His standard operating procedure is to randomly bump and spin throughout the room on the theory that he will eventually cover every available square inch of the floor. He apparently succeeds.

Watching Roomby move so blindly about, pity compelled me to attach a pair of eyes to his face. These did nothing for his vision, but they have given him a bit of personality.

Whenever Roomby has knocked off an eye during a cleaning frenzy, I’ve recovered it in his collection bin. He’s very meticulous that way.

Please do not think that Roomby is a complete dummy. I can communicate with him via my phone to schedule his weekly cleaning duties or to send him home to his charging station early as a reward for a job well done. If my phone is not handy, I have the option of asking Echo (AKA Alexa) to modify Roomby’s behavior.

Roomby’s operating instructions stressed that, although I might feel a need to watch him work, it is not necessary. When Roomby feels that he has completed an assigned job or that he is running out of energy, he can decide to return home on his own for recharging.

This autonomy soon proved to be only mostly true. On Roomby’s maiden unsupervised outing, he sent a sad message to my phone. He couldn’t finish his work because he had encountered a cliff.

Rushing to Roomby’s rescue, I found that the cliff in question was, in fact, an electrical cord I had carelessly left accessible. Bad daddy.

Roomby has also more than once reported that he is stuck and needs my help. As it turns out, my reservations about our low-slung couch were not without merit.

Although his body is too chubby to get under the couch, his nose is not. In his zeal to do his job, he powers himself under the first inch or so but lacks the traction to pull himself loose.

Surprisingly, our two dogs adapted to their new brother rather quickly. They don’t bark at, run from or chase him. They don’t react to him at all unless he bounces off a foot.

Prior to Roomby’s arrival, our living room and dining room were beset by what seems like several pounds of dog hair shed daily. I had many times sat on the couch, sorrowfully handicapped by my acute fear of housekeeping, as I watched my poor wife pursue dog hair tumbleweeds throughout the house.

Now, with Roomby hitting the floors on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, the living room and dining room are immaculate.

Just don’t look under the couch.

The Continuing Story of Echo

I’ve had to change Alexa’s name.

Unfortunately, Alexa was in “earshot” of both the living room television set and my wife’s more recently acquired Echo Dot. The Dot is a sawed-off version of the original Echo. As far I can tell, stature is only difference between the two Amazon entities.

The default “wake word” for both units is “Alexa,” which summons the cloud-based artificial intelligence answering to that name to do your bidding. Artificial is an appropriate adjective, but I question the noun it describes.

Signs of Trouble

Early in our relationship, Alexa was jumping in whenever she heard her name on TV. Usually, she claimed that she didn’t understand the question. At other times, she launched a lengthy Wikipedia reading, leaving us to theorize about the relationship between what she had heard and her response.

This was often unintentionally amusing, but it did not happen so frequently that it crossed the border into annoying. That brings me back to the Dot.

The Dot was installed in my wife’s art studio, a location which is about as far from the kitchen location of the original Echo as you can get and stay within the house walls. It soon became apparent that any commands issued to Alexa Dot in the studio were also heard and obeyed by Alexa Echo in the kitchen.

I was instantly irritated and initially puzzled when Alexa Echo would inexplicably burst into song as I was trying to follow hushed dialog on TV. It didn’t take long to determine the problem. My wife and I have very different tastes in music.

So, Alexa Echo is now just plain Echo. The other alternate waking names are “Amazon” and “Computer.” My personal choice, “Hey, Dumb Ass,” is not available, yet.

Using “Amazon” would have been a costly mistake, as I frequently use that word in normal conversation, and rarely in a good way. Echo is ever-ready to order something for me, and I really don’t need a string of appearances by pizza deliverers or ride-sharing services

I was tempted by “Computer,” with its Star Trek connotations, but I wisely concluded that name would be an insult to Computerkind throughout the United Federation of Planets.