iRobot Introduces Roomba 790 with Wireless Command Center, We Wonder What's Next

Roombas are going wireless, and our imaginations are running wild

2 min read
iRobot Introduces Roomba 790 with Wireless Command Center, We Wonder What's Next

It seems like just yesterday that iRobot unveiled the new 700 series Roombas, but apparently it was waaay back at CES 2011, so it's time for a refresh! Or rather, it's some for a newer and more expensive robot with newer and more expensive features, and the 790 doesn't fail to provide, since it's gone wireless! Sort of!

First, we have to point out (as we often point out with new Roombas) that the Roomba 790 (which costs $700) will not necessarily clean any better than the rest of the 700 series. It's got the same vacuum guts inside, and really the only difference is that the 760 ($450) doesn't include room-to-room navigation or a full bin indicator. The 770 ($500) gets the indicator, and the 780 ($600) gets the navigation. So, the 790 is functionally identical to the 780 for cleaning purposes, and both of them come with all this stuff:

The 790 comes with all of this extra stuff:

The highlight, of course, is the wireless command center. Here's a better look:

It's radio frequency (not infrared), which means that it'll work through walls and floors. It doesn't really offer a lot of additional functionality (mostly replicating on-board controls, with the exception of the steering pad), but it is pretty cool, and keeps you from having to bend over. Whether or not the command center and accessories (and the blue faceplate) are worth the extra Benny Franklin is up to you, but again, the Roomba 790 itself is not going to clean any better than the 780 (or, strictly speaking, the 770 or 760).

Our secret hope (or maybe not so secret as of right now) is that this wireless command center is iRobot's first step towards more general wireless accessibility for their its. We're thinking about stuff like Roombas that connect to your wireless network, allowing them to be controlled (or maybe even programmed?) using your computer or smartphone. And from there, a simple next step would be remote control from anywhere in the world.

My own personal fantasy is that iRobot will (soon) offer a Roomba with an integrated camera that streams audio and video to a mobile device. This may sound like a far-fetched suggestion, but it's totally not: there are already Asian vacuums with these sorts of features, and iRobot has experience with the ConnectR prototypes as well. Yes, ConnectR was mostly cancelled right after we asked about it at CES 2009, but there's no reason why the the technology inside would vanish from iRobot's super secret development lair. Or even if iRobot has dropped the ConnectR totally, it's still adding features that enable more connectivity, and telepresence (even Roomba-level telepresence) is just such an obvious next step that I'm willing to bet that iRobot is either working on it, or has a very good reason why it's impractical.

The point, though, is that iRobot has a history of slowly adding innovative premium features to its robots, and would I pay an extra $50 or $100 or so for a robot vacuum that can show me video of my cats eating each other alive after I forget to feed them? I absolutely would. I probably wouldn't buy something like a ConnectR, but a robot vacuum that also does streaming audio and video? Absolutely.

Meanwhile, the iRobot Roomba 790 is available now on iRobot.com.

[ iRobot Roomba 790 ]

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How the U.S. Army Is Turning Robots Into Team Players

Engineers battle the limits of deep learning for battlefield bots

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman
LightGreen

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.

"I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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