Thoughts On Vacuum Cleaner Design

On Vacuum Cleaner Design

As mentioned multiple times previously, my parents were both mechanical engineers, and both of my older brothers were technically minded and interested.  I was the odd ball who wandered off in other directions, but occasionally I like to exercise the DNA shreds that I retain to think about design.

Like when cleaning the house.

In fact, I’ve been interested in the design of pretty much everything for pretty much forever.  Perhaps if I’d thought that I had talent in that area I might have pursued a different path. Dinner conversations in my house revolved around the design of houses, cars, and space ships. My father was working on the Apollo mission at that time, and of course could not talk about it in specifics because it was classified.  My mother was designing hydraulic switches for something.  George was into chemistry, and Jim Physics. You know you’re in a house of engineers if everyone in the family has a slide rule and knows how to use it.

Nobody much wanted to hear about how I did in the football game, in other words.

I recall a father and daughter trip to visit Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. It was the spring of 1993 and Dorine was making college choices. She eventually decided to go for the Honors program at the University of Washington instead, which would get her out of college about $150,000 less in debt.

One of the ironies of life is that I spent a career teaching young people how to write for college, while not earning enough money to be able to pay for my own children’s college education, as my engineer parents had done for me. Oh well.  No regrets.

In any case, I remember walking through the graphic arts department at Willamette and thinking, for a fleeting second, that I did not want to send Dorine there, but me!

So… on to vacuuming. We have three machines for this in our house. An upright Oreck, a portable small Oreck, and a Roomba. While bustling away today I determined that all of them could be improved, and should be.

The Roomba is essentially a novelty toy, purchased in a spasm of economic excess at the urging of a neighbor.  It works just fine, of course, but you can leave it locked up in a room for an hour, or get off your butt and vacuum the entire house in the same period of time.  The Roomba simply meanders along until it hits something, turns itself a random number of degrees, and sets off again. Eventually the entire room has been cleaned, most of it many times.  It might be more useful if we had a grand ballroom, or perhaps an indoor tennis court.  Although it is amusing to see it wandering around and bouncing off the furniture like your drunken Uncle Bob who is so embarrassing at family gatherings, it is really not all that clever, and we rarely use it.

What is needed is a “smart” Roomba, like a smart phone. It should be possible to use laser scanners, et al and be able to put your Roomba down in a room and have it scan its surroundings. It would determine if it recognized the room, and if so, go to its stored memory for “room 1,” check for anything different, and then vacuum the room in the most efficient manner possible.   Most tractors and combines used on modern farms these days have this technology.  As for stairs… we’ll come back to that later.

The small portable Oreck is used for an ongoing battle between the fabric couch in the TV room and our two cats. The cats win.  The Oreck removes copious quantities of fur, but it is frustrating to use.  To move around, you need to use the strap to carry it. First you slide it over your shoulder, and after the third or fourth time it slips off you give up and put the strap over your head. Now the weight of the strap is bearing down on the side of your neck, and if you’re not careful you can cut off your own blood flow to the brain and knock yourself out.  I did not do this…quite. What is needed is a four strap harness like a backpack. Would customers use it?  Dunno

The large upright Oreck is used for everywhere else, and where it is most needed is where it has a weakness. The stairs.   Cat hair seems to be magnetically attracted to stairs, and is hard to ignore because as you come up from the lower level there it is, right in your face. To deal with it, you need to manhandle the machine up the stairs, doing one step at a time. This is not a big problem, now, but I can see that it would be if I was old and frail. Or perhaps “when” I’m old and frail.

There are now robots that can climb stairs. I think the way ahead is to combine the technologies that allow a combine to harvest wheat efficiently, cars to park themselves, and GPS systems that are gradually removing the ability of people to think for themselves as to where they are (except for troglodytes like me).   Put those all together and you’ll have a machine that can do all the rooms, and the stairs, and the furniture, while I do something more productive.

Like go for a motorcycle ride.


David Preston                              Copyright 2014




About david

I am a 74 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020), a 2020 Triumph Bonneville, and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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