When you have a Roomba, you’re never really alone.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I don’t have a Roomba myself, which might seem surprising given my general enthusiasm for vacuums, but maybe that’s because I already have a pet: my dog, Gordo. He provides me with a similar level of emotional support as a Roomba would, although he doesn’t offer the same level of productive support; Gordo doesn’t do much besides lie around, eat, sniff his butt, and drink water so fast he barfs.
A Roomba may not be cuddly, but many owners say they regard the device as a pet or, at the very least, a semi-sentient being that resides in their home.
“I think it started as a joke, and then eventually our minds started associating sentience with the vac, I guess because it moves around on its own and performs a function,” says Jess, a Roomba owner and Twitch streamer in Toronto who asked not to use her last name to keep her streaming separate from her professional life. “If the two cats are our sweet little fur babies, then Scoopy just kind of became like a very dumb third cat.”
Humans have anthropomorphized animals, objects, and even ideas (such as gods) for tens of thousands of years, yet the Roomba is a unique entry into this storied lineage. We tend to anthropomorphize objects that are either already alive (such as animals or plants — I have a philodendron named Henri), or appear to have faces (such as the grill of a car). A Roomba fits neither category. Rather, its anthropomorphization stems from two factors: the service it provides to the family, and its animal-like movement, which can be charming and frustrating in turn — much like a hyper Jack Russell.
In the 2007 study of Roomba owners, the researchers found that the anthropomorphizing increased their trust in their Roombas.