Gene Wolf
Jan Editorial Robot Vaccum G Wolf

Bumping Around The House Autonomously

Dec. 18, 2020
I have to admit, I had an ulterior motive for digging into the consumer robotic vacuum.

Consumer technologies are all around us and they are being adopted very aggressively by our customers. Granted, “Charging Ahead” is typically interested in the  technologies that are changing the grid, but technologies know no boundaries. I have been focusing on topics like artificial intelligence (AI), droids, and communication systems, etc., and it may come as a surprise to some, but so have our customers, only more so.

This group has been connecting into the Internet of Things (IoT) long before our industry got serious with intelligent electronic devices (IEDs). They have been leveraging smart home applications before utilities began taking advantage of smart meters. And when it comes to distributed energy resources our customers have been breaking records with solar installations.

So it wasn’t surprising that I found a lot of data about off-the-shelf consumer robots researching my “Droids and Drones” article (see T&D World, September 2020). One paper, however, really caught my attention because it was from a professional engineering society that I have belonged to for years.

Maintenance Bot vs Vacuum Bot

This piece focused on high-end household robotic vacuum cleaners. Now I know this was a little off-the-beaten path as far as grid droids go, but there are similarities. According to the authors, there is one bot on the market that has one of the most advanced AI applications to be found in consumer electronics. They also pointed out these devices are packed with other digital technologies. Before scoffing at this statement, consider these robots are fully autonomous, which is significant in terms of sophistication.

Like substation maintenance droids, these household bots have a variety of on-board sensors and cameras giving them the ability to identify their surroundings. The real-time data produced by the robot is fed into its AI infused smart mapping application. Advanced algorithms continuously update its navigation system, so the bot knows exactly where it is and what is around it. It also uses IoT interconnectivity to keep the robot in constant communication with its base station.

Hands-on Experience

I have to admit, I had an ulterior motive for digging into the consumer robotic vacuum. My wife and I had been talking about the replacing our old-school vacuum cleaner with a robotic vacuum cleaner. The autonomous robot cleaner has a lot going for it, plus it would be fun to get some hands-on experience with all the technology I have been writing about for the past year.  

After several months of use, I am amazed at how good this mobile IED has been working. The first day it mapped the house, which took several hours. When that was completed, I identified the spaces (rooms and halls) and set up electronic fences to keep it out of areas I didn’t want it going into such as under my desk with all its computer cords.

With that task done, I can just tell it to clean my office and away it goes. I do have to laugh at the circuitous route the bot takes to clean a room. According to the manufacturer’s video the robot moves in a series of straight lines across the room, but in reality, my bot’s AI algorithms send it careening around the room.

Seriously though, this robot has proven to be a nice addition to our home’s technology, and I can’t see going back to my old push cleaner. I have better things to do with my time, which is why robotics are gaining in popularity with utilities. They can perform time consuming tasks along with dangerous duties without human control. They can swim inside oil filled transformers, crawl around underground vaults, coast along transmission lines, and roll around substations.

Every year, Black & Veatch publishes its Strategic Directions: Electric Report and 2020’s report asked some questions about emerging technologies to more than 600 power sector stakeholders. I read that 15.6% of the respondents have considered using robotics and 19.3% are currently considering the technology as part of their operations. What was shocking to see was 21.7% of those surveyed admitted robotics was not at all on their radar and 8.7% didn’t know what robotics were.

Imagine 8.7% are clueless when it comes to robotics. That tells me there is a lot of work needed to get the word out about all these emerging technologies. When you consider how transformational emerging technologies are, we have to be ready for them. Niche technologies have a way of becoming mainstream quickly!

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