These Adorable 'Robot Tortoises' Were The Roombas Of 1949

These Adorable

Watching a family of Roombas tidy up any space is always a big hit, but in 1949 — long before the sweet little guys were making our floors dust-free — a British neurophysiologist and roboticist named Dr. William Grey Walter invented a mini-gang of early autonomous electronic robots; the Roomba's long-lost, distant great-grand-relatives.

One of the things we've been so taken with is just how much personality our Roombas have; spinning discs that gently kiss whatever's in their way like a charmingly clumsy, half-blind pet.

This was a concept that Walter seemed to embrace; he called them his "tortoises" and named his them Elsie and Elmer (awww!). After explaining about how they function — exactly as if they had a two-cell nervous system — and how they "see" — out of a photoelectric cell that rotates above their metal bodies — Elsie's batteries ebb low she "runs back to her kennel" to recharge.

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