Monday, October 17, 2016

The puppy and the robotic vacuum cleaner

giardia, infectious disease
A stunning hand-made giardia plate given as a gift to an infectious disease colleague.

Robotic vacuum cleaners are all the rage, but they’re not perfect. Perhaps we’ve been living under a rock, but it was only on Saturday night when we learned of the Roomba-induced pooptastrophe that has been making waves on the internet. It serves as a warning to those toilet-training their dogs who wish to use a robotic vacuum cleaner.

The drama unfolded when a family went to bed for the night. During their slumber, their puppy defecated on the rug. Hadn’t ever done it before, but there it was. And the drama would have ended there, but for their automatic vacuum cleaner which kicked off at 1.30am, rolled over the poo, and then systematically distributed it over the entire house.

Fortunately the dog wasn’t infected with giardia or other zoonotic gastrointestinal pathogens (a tenuous link to the image posted above).

The interaction between pets and machines is something we need to increasingly consider, least of all for incidents like this which according to engineers aren’t isolated. It does make you wonder though, when people dream up these things, do they consider the impact on all species living within a household? In many cases, probably not. 

There is also this case of a cat commandeering a robot vacuum cleaner to strike a dog (not something owners should be encouraging) and at least one case of a dog allowing a robot vacuum cleaner to “escape” (none of these are documented in the peer-reviewed literature).

One of the reasons people use robotic vacuum cleaners is that they can be set automatically to do their work when the humans in the house are sleeping. It is less considered that animals are likely to be woken by the activity of a machine like this, and may find it disturbing.

It’s important to observe animals interacting with machinery like this, and ensure that the animals can get out of the way of the vacuum cleaner should they wish to.