We were debating what to call the robot. The recipient, my housemate, a novelist with a flare for the fantastic, wanted to name it after the robot in Forbidden Planet. I dimly reflected and declared my belief that that robot had no name. I must have been thinking of Lost in Space. The robot in Forbidden Planet, it turns out, was named Robby. There was brief argument that that was the actor's name, as in "Robby the Robot as Himself." But we let it pass.

I called it Robby for a few encounters, till my housemate informed me it had its own name, Suckatron.

It's the iRobot Roomba Pro Elite™, a robotic floor vac that we all love and wish to elevate to high things. But we know, alas, that it cannot be the robot friend we all hoped for as...hopeful...children.

It stumbles its way around the room, inexpertly picking up dust and dog hair. It bumps into walls or other obstructions and reverses course, re-aiming for a better shot. But it does not achieve. It fails us on the grand scale of what we know robots to be capable of.

So we were sitting. We were graciously sipping drinks and enjoying the Southern clime. Out on the patio when our competitors--who own no robots--were languishing in mediocrity. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves. And I began to think of Suckatron.

"You know," I began, "the...." Then I paused and reformulated my thought. "Here's a phrase you didn't use to hear," I declared. "The problem with domestic robots today is that they're all light and plasticky. They should be heavy honkin' chunks of metal that demand their own way and don't buckle when they come to an elevation they don't expect in the surface. They should be able to swap out different tools for different kinds of dirt: a pooper scooper, a mop, a duster."

While my housemate, a strong-minded man, agreed with all that, he pointed out a more fundamental weakness in Suckatron's design I had not considered: "The problem with domestic robots today," he said, "is that they don't know when they're low on power. Suckatron should know when he needs juice and dock himself into a charger. And he should know when he's full of filth and go empty himself, to be free to suck up more dirt. Then, he'd be more organic." More like an organism, more like the robot friend we all once hoped we'd have.

He's quite right, of course. Their dependence on us to feed and clean them is the problem with domestic robots today.

It's been pointed out to me that later models of the Roomba have learned to dock themselves...this first issue did not. Thanks, StrawberryFrog.

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