Fiona at work
Fiona at work

This girl is good!

| Nobody likes to vacuum. It's boring, it takes time, and all that back-and-forth with the arm is tiring.

So, this week I engaged a new housekeeper. Meet Fiona, technically a Roomba.

Some assembly required
Some assembly required
First charge
​Getting all charged up
Fiona meets my people
​Fiona meets my people
Going around the light
​Working her way around the floor lamp
Skillfully working under the chairs
​Chairs are no obstacle — she just goes around the legs
She even cleans under the bed
​She even cleans under the bed
Hung up on a chair
​She's like a cat that can climb a tree but can't get down
What a lot of dirt she finds
​What a lot of dirt she finds!

When I fetched her from Costco and opened the box I was taken aback by what looked like a big assembly job. In turned out that most of the box contents was just spare parts.

After an overnight charge, I set her to work, having erected "virtual walls" to keep her out of my office and bedroom.

She's very fun to watch. She roamed rather freely about, merrily bumping into things and spinning around to change course. I suppose there's method to her madness, but I don't get it.

I had expected her to be much more systematic, covering the room like a Zamboni with parallel passes. Rather, she goes hither and thither like a puppy with attention-deficit disorder. One minute she'll be in the living room, the next she'll be in the bathroom. And she doesn't dawdle but scoots about quickly.

(Check out these time-lapse photos of Roomba at work.)

Eventually, however, I just say that she seems to cover the space. Just as a test I've been scattering little bits of paper and piles of dirt (dryer lint) in various places to see if she sucks them up. She does.

I surmise that a lot of her apparently random roaming about is really an attempt to find the boundaries of the room, which in an open space floor plan must seem endless to her. She remains undaunted, however.

I put her on a schedule to start work at 6am every day. At the appointed hour she makes cheerful sounds, backs away from the charging station, then scoots off to find the first wall to bump into.

She's very thorough, cleaning under the beds and everything. I never do that when I vacuum! (The vacuum cleaner doesn't fit.) When she finds a spot that is particularly dirty she does a little cha-cha-cha by swiveling back and forth over the spot so the brushes can attack the spot from all angles.

Tony with bumpers
​Angela's Tony with bumper guards

Angela, whose Roomba is named Tony, warned me that he went about knocking into things, so she had to install bumper guards (the fuzzy part of velcro) to protect furniture and baseboards.

I don't have that problem with Fiona. I've noticed that when she approaches something solid she slows down, making the bump more of a nudge.

Sometimes, however, her optimism and enthusiasm gets her into trouble. The first time she worked, I heard her calling for help from the guest room, where I found her stranded on top of a chair leg. She's quite agile about climbing over things, but she got hung up and couldn't get down.

Yesterday she disappeared. I was concerned that she had either been kidnapped or had run away from home. Eventually I found her in my bedroom stuck under the back of the recliner. She had gotten under it then tried to turn to get out, catching her periscope on the chair. I had heard her for calling, but couldn't make out what she said, and it did take a while to find her.

I've been astonished at how much schmutz she manages to find! Each time she runs her dust bin is filled. I guess she is trying to impress upon me what a poor housekeeper I am!

When Fiona is done cleaning she finds her charging station and settles in for a re-charge. This morning was the first time that I actually saw her docking. She lined herself up from a couple of feet away and then took little baby steps turning back and forth to zero in on the homing beacon. Once in position, she gave a triumphant little fanfare and settled down.

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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