Robot Vacuum Cleaners Could Be The Key To Smart Houses

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Certain robotic vacuum cleaners, the “Roomba,” have been mapping the parameters of people’s homes while collecting dust and dirt, according to a Reuters report published Monday.

The automated devices are programmed to maneuver and oscillate along the entire grounds of a residence, allowing the owner the luxury of not having to worry about the mundane chore of floor cleaning. In the process, some Roomba devices are also stockpiling spatial data, which includes the dimensions of a room, as well as the space between household furniture like couches and tables, Reuters reports.

Not all of the products for iRobot — the company that created the Roomba but used to focus on military robots — are embedded with the mapping capability. The Roomba 980, the firm’s first wi-fi-connected model introduced in 2015, employs visual localization capacity and sensors to collect the unique data. The technology appears comparable to the LiDAR sensor, a nascent feature that helps fully or semi-autonomous vehicles map the environment around it. (RELATED: Google’s Self-Driving Car Company Is Suing Uber For Allegedly Stealing Laser Sensor Tech)

Roomba could reach a deal with big tech companies — like Apple, Amazon, or Google parent company Alphabet — to sell its maps. As those corporations delve into the artificially intelligent voice assistant devices market, they are also exploring the advent of smart homes, a similar, but more extensive technology.

“There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared,” Colin Angle, chief executive of iRobot, told Reuters. He also stressed that, while his company would not sell data without the customers’ explicit approval, many people will likely grant consent because of what opportunities it can open up.

Through compatible wearable devices, smart homes or smart workplaces “can tailor environmental experiences, such as automatically adjusting lighting, temperature, or entertainment as users move from one space to another,” Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, wrote in his book “Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom.” Such “applications could eventually become ‘lifestyle remotes’ that help consumers control or automate many other systems around them, regardless of whether they are in their home, office or car.” (RELATED: How Advanced Technology Could Save Us From Future Internet Shutdowns)

Thierer, though, does have some concerns, particularly when it comes to safety and privacy. While he notes that there already are “targeted laws and liability norms” to help curb potential problems, companies will need to develop “privacy-by-design” and “security-by-design” strategies to ensure that data handling is done properly and reliably.

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