March 15, 2006 10:01 AM PST
Roomba takes Frogger to the asphalt jungle
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Quickly, several in the group begin a betting pool pegged to the big questions of the moment. How many lanes will the Roomba make it across before it's crushed? What kind of car will hit it? The consensus seems to be that it'll get hit after one journey across the four-lane street.
Soon Torrone and Fried say they're ready. Fried grabs the Roomba and heads for the street below. Nine people go to the edge of the fourth-floor suite's balcony to watch.
But down on Sixth Street, there is no communication between the Roomba and Torrone's laptop four stories up. So Fried grabs her cell phone and convinces him to come down to run things from street level.
Roomba does traffic rumba
A man with a British accent and signs of inebriation wanders over to where Fried is fiddling with the Roomba and asks if the nondescript frog moves around and whether it vacuums while it moves.
He has no idea how spot on he is.
As Torrone arrives, he explains that his Bluetooth transmitter doesn't have the range to reach the balcony, but from the street it should be no problem.
And suddenly, the Roomba Frogger, which was sitting in the street, just up against the curb, is moving. Slowly, and toward the center of the street. It reaches the middle, spins around, and Torrone calls it back.
One of Fried and Torrone's biggest worries was that the police would show up and arrest them. But as the Roomba rolls from lane to lane, two cops ride by on bicycles. They don't stop to bust anyone. Instead, they beep their horns. Everyone laughs.
Everyone thought the Roomba would suffer a quick death, but it is far more resilient than anyone expected. Car after car zooms by, and many roll directly over the robot, which manages to avoid getting hit by the wheels.
One car does clip it, though, and a loud "Whoa" rings out from the group on the balcony and the growing number of people gathered on both sides of the street.
Gradually, the Roomba makes it back and forth four times, then five, six and seven.
But on about the 10th trip--15 minutes into the game and after crossing a total of 40 lanes of traffic?a white Toyota 4Runner approaches and, unable to avoid the robot vacuum cleaner, crushes it.
The timing is probably good, because as Fried and Torrone gather up the nearly dead machine, a local security guard is standing nearby on the phone and calling the cops. And so everyone scatters or heads back into the hotel, walking into the lobby as if nothing had happened.
And as they do, Fried and Torrone are already imagining their next Frogger mission and how they could make it better.
"I did learn something," Torrone said. "If you're really going to do this, you probably need to use (radio frequency)."
"I can totally build a 500-feet RF link," she said. "Yeah, I'm on it."
Back in the hotel suite, Ludlow assessed the mood: "Once you get a taste of Roomba Frogger, you can't get enough."
As people in the suite laughed, shouted and talked about what they'd just witnessed, Torrone summed up his evening.
"We had a lot to drink before we got here," he said, "but there's nothing to sober you up like steering a robot through traffic."
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