A Roomba recorded a woman in the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?
iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner, who now runs a startup called Tertill that sells robot weeds in the garden, emphasizes that in gathering all this data, companies do not try invasion of customer privacy. She’s just trying to make better products—or, in the case of iRobot, “clean better,” she says.
However, even the best efforts of companies like iRobot clearly leave gaps in privacy protection. Giese, the IoT hacker, says: “It doesn’t look like something malicious, it’s just incompetence. “Traditional developers are not very good [at] security tools. Their attitude becomes “Try for the function and if it is working, deliver the product.”
“And then the scandals came,” he added.
Robot vacuum cleaner is just the beginning
The hunger for data will only increase in the coming years. Vacuums are just a small subset of the connected devices that pervade our lives, and the biggest names in robotics—including iRobot, Samsung, Roborock, and Dyson— are speaking out about ambitions far bigger than automated floor cleaning. Robots, including home robots, have long been the real prize.
See how Mario Munich, then senior vice president of technology at iRobot, explains the company’s goals for 2018. In a Presentations on the Roomba 980, the company’s first computer vision vacuum, he showed images from the device’s vantage point—including a kitchen with tables, chairs, and stools—in addition to how the robot’s algorithm will label and sense them. “The challenge is not in vacuuming. The challenge is with robots,” explains Munich. “We wanted to know the environment so we could change the robot’s behavior.”
This larger task is evident in the things Scale data annotators are required to label—not items on the floor to be avoided (a feature iRobot promotes), but items like “cabinet”, “kitchen countertop” and “shelf”. together help the Roomba J series device realize the entire space in which it operates.