Friday, January 11, 2008

*Engineered* To Only Live 150 Hours?

This is an interesting piece at Megan McArdle's blog. It's part of her response to some commentary by Tyler Cowen on her piece in this month's Atlantic, "No Country For Young Men." (There is also a Mark Bowden story about The Wire in this month's issue!) It's about the major issues that will arise with the graying of the Baby Boomers. The tangential discussion that followed was about the likelihood of the commercial availability of robots to aid in caring for the elderly, in time for the very creaky years awaiting the just-now-retiring Boomers.

Megan thinks it unlikely, and her post includes an excerpt from an Popular Mechanics interview with the CEO of iRobot (they make the familiar Roomba and Scooba, along with some military robots). The full excerpt in the post is worth reading, but the part that jumped out at me was this:

"Unlike with software, the margins are terrible," he said, citing 56 percent drop-off from software to robotics profits. "And you're building physical stuff. You have moving parts, gears operating in nasty environments. The robots are going to break." Initially, the Roomba was built to last 150 hours before failing, to meet European product standards. But considering how often the vacuum runs, that would have meant just six months of operation.

Uhhh..what? The first generation Roomba had a design life of 150 hours? I'm sure the people who purchased it were completely unaware that it was expected to break after 6 months of regular use. I'm sure this product characteristic was not mentioned anywhere on the product packaging. I wonder how long the current generation Roomba is expected to last?

This is a pretty funny, pertinent piece (and it even has the guy from the Sonic commercials!):

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