Maid To Order

A little robot called Roomba vacuums your house while you lounge by the pool. Is this the beginning of the end?

The first time you meet a robot can be pretty disappointing. Hollywood has taught us what to expect: a trusty sidekick like R2-D2, a gleaming robo-maid like The Jetsons' Rosey or a cyberassassin like the Terminator. The reality is very different: most robots are either mindless factory drones or blue-sky academic projects that cost a fortune, break down a lot and don't do very much. Most of them don't even have death rays.

Now meet Roomba, a new housecleaning robot spawned by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab and built by a Somerville, Mass., company called iRobot. Roomba's function...

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