In the lab, robots are engineered for mind-blowing displays of perception and agility, like Boston Dynamics’ parkour performing bot and the humanoid shooting hoops at the Olympics.
But in the home, this technology is now deployed for the mundane task of spotting dog poop — a feature with expansive potential privacy costs.
“Roomba j7+,” the latest version of iRobot’s popular home vacuum, claims to give customers “even more control over their clean,” with a camera that can identify and avoid pet droppings. Instead of smearing it all over the floor, the device will gracefully avoid the poop and even snap a picture and text it to your phone if you’re out, the company says.
The $849 vacuum, released last week, relies on an AI-boosted brain and camera system to identify objects on the floor in real-time. It’s designed to be a “thoughtful, collaborative cleaning partner” suited for people who want tech to serve them better, iRobot says in a news release.
But there’s a catch: Accessing these features requires that you share sensitive household data.
The company touts that the gadget gets smarter every time you use it, a feature made possible by an AI and vision platform, trained on tens of thousands of photos taken inside iRobot employees’ homes, the company says.
To maneuver around pet poop, the luxury vacuum uses a set of sensors to navigate around a room and map your furniture layout. If an object lies in its path that it suspects is a cord or dog poop, it’ll take images of the objects and send them to a smartphone app.
If the gadget continuously encounters cords in a specific part of the room, it might mark off that area as a potential “keep out zone” for you to confirm on the app. It may even learn when and where you typically like for it to clean and figure out more opportune times to roam around based on when you’re away from home, said Angle.
But experts say AI-powered home devices raise privacy considerations, in part because of the intimacy of the data they collect.
“People are used to thinking about whether Alexa is listening in on their house, or what the Ring doorbell is capturing outside, but they might not realize that the existence of a camera on their vacuum could present those same types of concerns,” said Tom Williams, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the director of the Mines Interactive Robotics Research Lab at the Colorado School of Mines.