March 15, 2006 10:01 AM PST

Roomba takes Frogger to the asphalt jungle

AUSTIN, Texas--It's almost two in the morning and I'm standing in the middle of Austin's Sixth Street, hoping that I'm not going to get hit by a car.

On the other hand, I am hoping--as are 15 or so other people standing nearby--that one of the cars that keep rushing by will crush the tricked-out Roomba robot vacuum cleaner that Make Magazine associate editor Phillip Torrone and Eyebeam R&D fellow Limor Fried are sending back and forth across the street and through traffic.

This is Roomba Frogger, a modern, geek version of the famous 1981 video game "Frogger," in which players had to get a frog across a street without it getting crushed by a car or truck.

Roomba's Frogger fandango

But here, in front of one of Austin's 19th-century landmarks, the gorgeous Driskill hotel, Torrone and Fried and a growing crowd have already gotten their Roomba, dressed in a cut-up green T-shirt to look like a frog, across the street several times without serious incident. Now everyone is cheering for imminent impact.

This is Make Magazine--a quarterly journal that pays homage to do-it-yourself technology hacks--come to life. Torrone and Fried have taken a production Roomba, an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner from iRobot, and modded it so that it is Bluetooth-enabled and controllable from a laptop computer.

Vacuum cleaner as game celebrity
About an hour and 40 minutes earlier, Torrone had showed up in Second Life Herald founder Peter Ludlow's suite at the Driskill, Roomba in hand. Everyone was in town for the South by Southwest conference here, and many had come from the party commemorating the closing of the conference's five-day Interactive event.

As Torrone and Fried begin setting up the Roomba--attaching Styrofoam cups to serve as legs and wrapping it in a frog-green T-shirt--everyone jokes about what will happen once it is sent into traffic.

"If the (Bluetooth) range works out," Torrone said, "we'll take turns running it until it dies, the cops show up, or both."

Around the suite, the declaration "Oh, this is going to be great" is heard again and again.

"I was like, this is a really bad idea. Let's do that!"
--Limor Fried, R&D fellow, Eyebeam

Just days ago, Torrone had hosted what he called the "first-ever underground Roomba cockfighting tournament" during the ETech conference in San Diego and had had hundreds of people furiously betting money on the outcome of the two-Roomba battle.

And on Monday night, he and Fried had brought a Roomba to a SXSW party and played Roomba pool, pitting the robot against people to see whether man or machine could sink more balls faster.

Now, they asked themselves, what could they do next?

"I said, you know what we can do? We can do real-life Frogger," said Torrone.

"I was like, this is a really bad idea," said Fried. "Let's do that!"

For a while the two huddle in a corner of the suite, tinkering with the Roomba and getting it ready. Soon, as the rest of the group gathers around, the robot suddenly emerges in the middle of the room, spinning in circles.

Things are looking good.

"Get pictures of it now because it's not going to look like this" for long, said Kyle Machulis, an expert in "teledildonics"--sex toys that are controlled remotely via the Internet.

CONTINUED: Roomba dodges traffic…
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Fun, but dangerous
This sounds really fun, and I would love to see a real set up to
allow this to be done safely. I know that someone is going to
say, "listen to this dork". But think about this for a minute, I
mean seriously think about this. A mother is driving down the
street, with a kid in the back seat. All of a sudden something
darts out in front of her vehicle. A lot of people's first reaction
would be to either slam on the brakes or swarve to miss it. The
mother than, trying to miss the animal or thing that ran out in
front her swarves and hits a nother car and the mother and child
are seriously injured. SHAME on the cops that saw it and didn't
stop it. Personally, if I were a driver that had damage done
because of this, I would sue the hell out of everyone that was
there, and the town and Police Dept. And, yes such a lawsuit
could and have happened.

The game has potential, but it needs to be safe! Lets see if we
can figure out a way to make it so. What would be fun is doing
it on a NASCAR track. I bet if you were to set this up right, you
could get a big game set up at Disney's race track in Orlando.
Just an idea, KEEP IT SAFE!
Posted by J Nathan Bazzel (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simply Illegal
Your example is good, but unnecessary. Their actions are simply illegal, and they are not permitted to play such "games." Nobody is going to make it legal, either. And if I ran over one of those things, I would find every little scratch and nick in my tire and undercarriage and then sue the kids with the freakin' toy... not just for damages, but also for everything that could be associated. This was not just a bad decision, it is also illegal. These kids need a private street, or a get out of jail free card.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
The idle rich?
Give me a brake! Playing dodge ball on the freeway,etc,etc,etc
Posted by gary85739 (613 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This isn't even amusing. This is rediculous and retarded. This is nothing like Frogger. Frogger was space-based JUMPING with a river and sewer entrances.

They took a vacuum cleaner across the road dressed as a frog. Good job. Idiots.
Posted by nitewatch (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe it's time to grow a sense of humor? The important thing is that nobody got hurt. And it is similar to frogger in that they dressed the roomba up as a frog and made it go across a highway. Like most games start out, this one is still in beta (maybe alpha?).

The article was funny but it did sound a bit dangerous. I would try it in a spot where the speed limit is low so that people could stop without losing control.. but I guess that takes away from the game.
Posted by boyd087 (43 comments )
Link Flag
Only absolute morons use the phrase "tricked-out"
Nothing else needs to be said.
Posted by georgegliddy (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Putting a term or phrase in quotation marks still qualifies as using that term or phrase, so I agree wholeheartedly.
Posted by jsidious (1 comment )
Link Flag
Stupid --and-- illegal
Wait until someone's car gets damaged by running over this Roomba, or worse yet, someone has a wreck because of it. Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried won't think it's much "fun" anymore when the cops arrest them for intentionally creating a traffic hazard.
Posted by Get_Bent (534 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Donkey Kong with Asimo
Anyone got some brown furry material and can sew? I bet Honda's robot can lift a barrel or two!
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is one of the most inane stories I've ever read. Roombas are not small. You're fortunate none in your party were injured, and no accidents ocurred during this stupid stunt. If you want to put yourselves in danger of bodily harm, fantastic. But do not put the unsuspecting public in harms way because you group of morons are wanna-be Johnny Knoxvilles. Even those jackasses only hurt themselves.
Posted by Stimpy70 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is one of the most inane stories I've ever read. Roombas are not small. You're fortunate none in your party were injured, and no accidents ocurred during this stupid stunt. If you want to put yourselves in danger of bodily harm, fantastic. But do not put the unsuspecting public in harms way because you group of morons are wanna-be Johnny Knoxvilles. Even those jackasses only hurt themselves.
Posted by Stimpy70 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
idiots. who pays for the damage
while i find the whole idea pretty funny, the reality is who pays
for the damage to the vehicles when they roll over this roomba.
i am thinking from a nice vehicle stand point, having the innards
of this vacuum cleaner throwin under the car and scraching
paint, popping tires, etc. someone can get hurt also if people
start swerving around and hitting things.

funny idea, dangerous consequences. if i ran over this in my
car, someone would be hiding behind a locked door because
they would be about an inch from their life ..:)
Posted by defylogik (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
You would
if you hit it you would have to pay for the damage. Think of it like a little kid running in the street. You hit the kid, you pay for the damage. Hit a car you pay for the damage. Hit anything, you pay for it, even if it was placed there intentionally. You would owe them a new roomba.
Posted by dympop (2 comments )
Link Flag
Is this what Hillary means...
...when she talks about videogame violence spilling over into the real world?
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get a bat and play True Crime: NYC
Just pull the passengers out of the car when they
stop and beat them with a bat and steal their car.

Thats a real video game.
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Or Postal
Go around town shooting random people. Try to take in a school and a fast food joint if possible. Oh wait, that's already been done. Never mind.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silly novelty that will wear off. Cellphones have nothing on Roomba
OK great so now we take an already useless
Roomba novelty and now start to kill
people with it even before it starts to do
it on it's own. Fetish Mongers.
Robots are only good for science, assembly
plants and video games.

Maybe it could be good to have a fullscale robot
walk around with us maybe only for dangerous
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I wonder how 2 roomba would clean in the same room.....

Better or wrose?
Posted by inachu1 (1399 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's a cool story.

If someone wants to learn how to do it by himself - then reading this programming guide is a must!
Posted by RobotDeveloper (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

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