Jacksons go robotic

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Author’s note: This is not an endorsement of a particular product. No company has paid me to speak highly of what they are seeking to sell to an unsuspecting public, though I am not opposed to the idea. Nor has any company paid me to speak disparagingly of their competition, though I am willing to discuss it with them. What follows is a simple explanation of a change that has taken place in the Jackson household.
That said, let me begin.
Being a dutiful and loving husband, as the Christmas season approached I became attuned to subtle hints that my wife usually drops to enable me to pick the right gift for her.
“I want a vacuum cleaner,” she said one day.
“Get yourself one,” I immediately replied, fully intending to slap a bow on that sucker and stick it under the tree.
A few days later it was delivered.
My wife named it Anita (pronounced A-neat-a, with the emphasis on “neat.”)
Anita is not your ordinary vacuum cleaner – you don’t give ordinary vacuum cleaners a name.
Anita is a robot.
Yessir, a robot.
Opening the box we found something that was about a foot square, only it wasn’t square. One end was rounded, so it looked something like an arch that had been tipped over. It sat about three inches off the floor.
The rounded side plugged into its “base,” which we were instructed to set up so its battery could charge.
So we did.
By this time my wife, who is the mechanical member of the family, had taken over. Following the instructions in the instruction book (what a novel idea and one I never considered), she waited until Anita’s green light told her that she (note gender specificity) was “fully charged and ready to clean.” Still following the instructions, my helpmate programmed what needed programming.
Then the Jackson household went robotic.
With the push of a button Anita went to work. Guided by sensors she moved across the floor, slurping up dog hair and dust bunnies as she went. Being low, she slipped easily under sideboards and sofas. If she ran into a chair, or a table leg, she retreated, considered the situation and took a new path to accomplish the task.
My son, home from Auburn, was fascinated, though it does not take much to fascinate a boy burned out from finals.
At first I feared our dogs – three Labradors whose curiosity was exceeded only by their inclination to bark at anything that interests them – would attack Anita as they attacked our regular vacuum cleaner, whose noise sent them into protective growls and snarls.
Thanks to them, we have never been harmed by a Hoover.
The dogs, however, looked on in silent bemused wonder. Anita’s low noise threatened no one. Their protective instincts relaxed and after a few minutes Libby, Willow and Bo went back to doing what dogs do and let Anita go about her business.
Only once was there a problem.
Trapped under a chair that we should have moved before she started, Anita stopped and began flashing her yellow light angrily at us.
Naturally we responded and on the screen found a message instructing us to remove the obstacle in her path.
We did, though I felt a little uncomfortable, and maybe embarrassed, taking orders from a machine.
Then I realized I do it all the time (when I close this file, my computer will ask me if I really want to  save the changes I have made, to which I will respond “Yes.”)
That was all the supervision Anita needed.  While the family (including the dogs) were occupied with other things, Anita cleaned and cleaned. Only when her dirt bin was full and she stopped did we get involved in the process.
Finally, after doing what she was created to do, and lifting from us the burden of having to do it instead, Anita began to run down. Her battery weakening, she made the only decision she could make.
Without any intervention on our part, she flashed on her screen that she was returning to her base to recharge.Gliding gracefully across the floor, taking the most direct route available to her, she arrived at her goal, turned around and backed into her spot.
Then she wiggled into place and settled to charge. And I swear I think I heard her sigh with satisfaction.
Now, every morning at 8 a.m., Anita wakes, vacuums for an hour and returns to her base.
It is a brave new world out there.
But the house is clean, and my wife is happy.
To these tired old eyes, that makes for a Merry Christmas.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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