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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 Roomba 790 ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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