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Welcome your robot overlairds, robots

Nine years of silicon servitude in Scotland

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Silicon servitude In 2002 we got our first domestic robot, a basic Roomba which is long dead now, but since then our household robots have kept the place tidy, and the children in line.

Our first Roomba was a basic cleaner. iRobot's baby didn't even vacuum back then, it just shuffled across the floor pushing the dirt around. But Roomba proved the concept, and convinced us to buy Mowbot, who has been cutting the lawn twice daily since 2004, and ensured that we've never been without domestic help of the silicon kind.

Three little robots

The robots line up to welcome the householder home

We like to consider ourselves the new breed of enlightened robot owners – not hobbyists, or enthusiasts, just enormously lazy people who'd prefer to see something else doing the work. That includes mopping the floor, cutting the grass or letting the cats in, not to mention motivating the children into keeping both room and garden tidy for fear of having their toys eaten by the machines.

Mowbot is the only machine really capable of destroying toys, but he does so with aplomb when the opportunity arises. He cost £1,200 in 2004, and we had to lay a wire around the edge of the garden as well as providing mains power to the hutch to which he returns when the lawn is cut or his batteries are dead.

Mowbot gets back to his hutch by following the wire, but when running he checks regularly to ensure he's within the field generated by the low-voltage pulse going through it, and will shut down if he thinks he's outside the line. We tried pegging the wire down first, using the supplied pegs, which worked in that whenever Mowbot approached the edge of the garden he would lacerate the wire with his spinning blade and shut down in a panic as the field disappeared. So we bought a lawn edger and spent an hour or two burying the wire an inch below the surface – it's just one core of stranded copper and so is easily extended to stretch around the garden where it has lasted almost a decade.

We know Mowbot can destroy toys because sometimes he does, if the children are foolish enough to leave them on the lawn: he'll bounce off walls and larger obstacles, but he'll give them a shove first. It was moments after I predicted he would have no difficulty bouncing off the inflatable paddling pool that it vanished in a swirling maelstrom of plastic and water droplets that was enough to ensure the children kept the garden tidy for a year or two.

Damaged water pistol

The water pistol is rendered safe by a robot who aspires to appear in an article by Lewis Page

For the first few years we carefully packed Mowbot away each winter. When the first snow came down we'd bring him into the garage and remove his batteries until the spring. There used to be a "winter charging kit" but that always seemed excessive, though most years we would have to replace the batteries with another pair of 12v sealed Lead Acid boxes.

That got cheaper when I realised we could get them from Maplin, rather than direct from Mowbot's manufacturer, and cheaper again when the snow came early in 2009 and we just turned off the power and left Mowbot to spend the winter under a blanket of snow. Turns out that leaving him in the snow was superior to bringing him in, allowing the batteries to run for three years rather than just over one.

He has had one set of replacement motors, and two new blades in the last seven years. The UK dealer we bought him off isn't around any more, but he's agricultural enough for basic servicing by a decent lawnmower shop and there's a UK outfit (featuring a really irritating American voiceover) which will keep him lashed together.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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