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Remote Surveillance

By Mordechai Schmutter

The future is now. We didn’t actually think it would get here, but it did, just recently. It snuck up on us. The robots snuck up on us. We (as a society) have been talking about robots for ages, and how, in the future, robots will do everything for us. And now it’s the future, apparently. (If anyone tells you it’s the present, they’re lying.) Sure, it’s not exactly like we pictured it. We always assumed that robots would look like people, only with less chin stubble. But they don’t.

For example, researchers at Virginia Tech have recently created a robotic jellyfish powered entirely by seawater. Just what we need. Jellyfish that don’t ever get tired. In case the applications of a robotic jellyfish are not immediately obvious to you, for whatever reason, the article I read went on to explain that they could be used for underwater rescues.

How big are these jellyfish?

They also say that the findings could “have a broad range of applications for both military and civilian uses.” (I see most of the civilian uses being swimming pool pranks.) The main use of the jellyfish is actually remote surveillance, in case you need to spy on something, so long as it’s something under the water. I think if you leave the robotic jellyfish sitting on the enemy’s desk, it would be a pretty big red flag. (Though it would send a great message.) It could also be useful if you keep dropping keilim in the lake.

Meanwhile, according to an article from the Associated Press, the Nevada DMV recently gave Google a license to test their self-driving cars on the road.

Self-driving? Then whose picture is on the license?

Self-driving cars are definitely the wave of the future. I’m not sure why your car needs to go somewhere that you’re not going, though, but it would probably be great for carpools. We just have to train it to say, “Stop spitting back there!” It would also be good for remote surveillance, for locations that aren’t underwater. Or it can drop you off at a wedding and go look for parking.

Google says that the cars would actually be safer than traditional cars, because they won’t drive tired, or with road rage, or while eating a sandwich with both hands. Think about it: What’s the main cause of accidents? Drivers! That’s some solid thinking right there. When was the last time you heard of a car getting into an accident without a driver? Almost never. And I say “almost,” because there was one story in the news about a couple in Missouri that ran out of gas, so they decided to get out and push their car to the gas station at the bottom of a hill, and it kind of got away from them and went right through the gas station’s convenience store. So almost never.

Nevertheless, the driverless car is still in testing stages, and state regulations require two people to be in the car at all times. One person sits behind the wheel, ready to grab it if anything goes wrong, and an engineer sits in the passenger seat, monitoring the car’s software on a little screen. This is as opposed to a traditional, non-driverless car, which generally only has one driver, and usually not even a whole driver. There’s a guy sitting there, but even he’s not fully aware. The only drivers paying full attention to the road are the ones complaining about the drivers around them. So, in other words, driverless cars are way safer, but it’s because there are two drivers plus a computer calling the shots.

And speaking of driverless, another new robot being developed is the Cocorobo, which is a huge leap forward in Roomba technology. For those of you who’ve been doing your own vacuuming for whatever reason, a Roomba is a vacuum cleaner that drives around by itself. Now before you get an image of a big, roaring, upright vacuum charging around your house and swallowing everything in its path (speaking of scaring enemy soldiers), I should say that the Roomba is less than a foot high. I’m not even entirely sure it picks anything up, because it definitely doesn’t roar. As far as I can tell, its main function is to make lines in the carpet. But at least you don’t have to do that manually.

Driverless vacuums are definitely a great idea. Think about it: What’s the main cause of vacuum cleaner accidents? People! According to the article I read, one of the new features of this vacuum is that it speaks three languages (Japanese, Chinese, and English) and engages in “witty repartee.” Now that worried me. My one solace about robots taking over our jobs has always been that even if all you guys get replaced, we’d still need a human being to churn out the jokes. So the thought that there’s now a witty robot out there scared me. Is it as witty as, say, Winston Churchill?

“Sir, I may be going in circles and bumping into walls, but you are too lazy to clean up after yourself, and in the morning, I will be charging.” But it turns out that I have nothing to worry about, because by “witty,” they actually mean “sarcastic.” (Apparently, it’s a snarky teenage robot.) Like for example, when you turn it on, it says “hello,” but if you haven’t used it in a while, it says, “Long time no see.” Wow, that’s witty. I think my job is safe.

Seriously? You’re pulling out the cleaning supplies so your mother-in-law won’t comment on the mess, and now you’re getting lip from the vacuum cleaner? (“What a pigsty. Do I have to do all the cleaning around here?”)

The robot also responds to things you say. For example, if you ask, “How’s it going?” it will say, “Good,” and possibly, “Baruch Hashem.” And if you say, “You missed a spot,” it will say, “You know, you go off to work all day, and I’m home, vacuuming the house and making it look good—for YOU. And then you come home, and you throw your socks on the floor, and do I complain? No. I just vacuum them up. And do you say, ‘How was your day?’ No. You say, ‘Look, you missed a spot!’ How about I go off to work and have meetings, and you circle the room all day long and have staring contests with the stuffed animals?”

I don’t know if it actually says that last thing. It only has 36 prerecorded phrases. It responds based on how much progress it’s making, and it gets into bad moods if you lock it in a closet for weeks, or it spends all day running away from your crawling, teething baby. The more you talk to the vacuum, the better it feels, and maybe it won’t swallow your keys or spend the entire time that you’re gone pulling a long, long thread out of the carpet so that you come home and think, “Hey! My entire carpet was stolen!” It needs emotional encouragement, and if you were going to give your vacuum emotional encouragement, you would just spring for cleaning help, instead of spending $1,200 on something that can’t even clean windows.

According to the company, Sharp Corp, the vacuum is going to be the first in a series of witty talking appliances. Maybe there will be a smoke detector that says, “Yeah, wave a broom at me. That’ll solve the problem.” Or a fridge that says, “Oh. You again?” The vacuum also is equipped with a small video camera that you can watch from your phone, so you can use it to find things under your couch. You can also use your phone as a remote control, so you can technically vacuum your house while you’re at work! Or driving your car! Also, if you get to work and realize you left something at home, you can make the vacuum suck it up, and then drive it to work remotely.

Don’t be surprised if it gets pulled over, though. Apparently, you need two people to drive a vacuum on the road, and one of them needs an engineering degree. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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Posted by on June 13, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.