iRobot’s poop problem –

i’m all for Encouraging more young people to enter STEM, to explore engineering and perhaps eventually pursue a career in robotics. This is an area whose importance will only grow with time, as much of the world looks to automated solutions. And it probably goes without saying that one of the most effective ways to strengthen a workforce from automated job losses is to ensure that more people entering the workforce acquire the skills for programming such machines.

That said, it doesn’t really make sense to sugarcoat most of it. If you thought the day-to-day realities of becoming a roboticist involved standing on stage while one of your employees cosplays Daft Punk to Skrillex, I have some unfortunate news for you. There is much more currently creating 3D models of Dog Hunting. Remember, binary code does not consist of two numbers.

You see, iRobot had a problem with defecation. There are dozens if not hundreds of YouTube videos documenting the phenomenon, as a Roomba approaches a pile of fresh dog droppings, hovers slightly over it, and then makes a snail-like trail of fecal smears on hardwood or carpet. This is honestly probably one of the most pervasive and unintentionally hilarious (depending on your point of view) consequences of bringing robots into the mainstream.

People’s imaginations project a worst-case scenario with robots. Every time we post a Boston Dynamics video, I get dozens of reactions from people who remember that one Black Mirror episode they watched that one time — it temporarily suppressed Skynet jokes. But the truth of the matter is, most robots have no intention of killing you. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to inadvertently do dog crap up and down your linoleum.

image credit: Bryce Durbin /

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In preparation for the latest Roomba, however, the company spent a lot of time with pet peeves. like a lot a lot of time Probably an unhealthy time studying stuff, modeling it, taking pictures.

As CEO Colin Angle recently told me, “The illustrious careers of roboticists may not have been fully realized when we were sending people home and building hundreds of models of poo.” “Sending people to be photographed and make synthetic models of poo. I don’t know how many thousands of images of all different shapes and sizes of synthetic images were needed, but this is clearly not demo code.”

This was one of the weirdest homework assignments for Bedford, Massachusetts-based 1staff. An employee apparently got so involved in the work that she became extremely excited when her dog had an accident on the floor. At least he got some good photos out of the deal.

When animal droppings were hard to come by in the real world, the company produced fake feces to approximate a wide range of sizes, shapes, and consistency.

“You imagine it, we probably tried to develop a large enough database with real images, images of fake poo, and synthetic images that were built from poop to serve as training models for our robots,” Angle says.

image credit: (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for )

All of this leads us to the Pet Owner Official Promise (POOP), which guarantees free returns for the new j7+ if the Roomba runs into a poop problem (and more). For the time being, though, iRobot has been strictly adhering to the old adage about sweetening yellow. “We can’t pee,” Angle says. “There must be some 3D aspect to it.”

The defecation problem, of course, was far from iRobot’s only struggle over the past year. While the pandemic eventually brought much of the industry to a halt, the early days of the global shutdown came with its share of issues for the Roomba maker. In the early days, the company laid off 70 employees and indefinitely halted production of its long-awaited robotic mower.

angle says:

The past year and a half has been an extraordinary rollercoaster. At the start of the pandemic, it looked like the world was ending and 60% of our sales were coming from retail stores that were closing. It was a really terrible time as we tried to figure out how to navigate. Then what happened people were working from home. When you’re spending a lot of time at home, things get messy fast. If you are used to cleaning while your kids go to school, suddenly your kids are not going to school anymore. The families were tearing their hair out only to survive and keep things under control. So work from home created a significant acceleration of interest in assistive technologies.

safeway tortoise

image credit: Turtle/Albertsons

Meanwhile, robotic delivery service Tortoise is about to get a huge boost as last-mile logistics company Axelhair announced plans for employees to operate 100 of its robots in the package delivery space in the U.S. Axelhair, including Blue Apron-like meal kits. Includes perishables from companies. Hello fresh. No word on what markets we’re talking about here, but Rebecca notes that the company currently operates in Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland. Works in Oregon.

And then, of course, there’s the matter of robotic unicorns. I find that nine times out of 10, tech companies’ claims of being “the first” are dubious, but XPeng Robotics notes that it’s “its first retractable robot unicorn.” However, there is already some competition in the wider rideable robotic unicorn category. Forget the overall rideable unicorn category. You can’t move a narwhal around these days without hitting a rideable unicorn.

Honestly, it’s hard to say if it’s a stunt, given the extremely CG nature of the video here. XPeng is apparently using the large toy robot to test the waters for wider penetration into the robotics category.

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