Robot toilet paper dispensers and bad smell sensors, oh my

January 10, 2020

Wendy Parker


“Oh the autonomy, ladies and gentlemen – it’s crashing all over the place and making it impossible to get into the restroom! I can’t even talk right now, I’m being held hostage by a smell-sensor that won’t give me a smiley-face so I can safely enter!”

This is me, talking to myself after reviewing some of the new technology unveiled at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show. The annual event never fails to spark deep personal concerns about how much control we’re willing to give the robots.

Hey, I’m all for living better through technology but I might have to draw a hard line at owning a headless robotic kitten.

Wait, it gets better. The headless robot-kitten is being marketed as a comfort companion for seniors in nursing homes. I mean, what elderly person doesn’t love headless kittens? Larger versions of the animatronics were released a few years ago but owners wanted a robo-kitty that easily fits into their bag and is portable, so the newest prototype is sans-head.

I have a multitude of questions about this. Namely, how terrifying would it be to other people in the nursing home if Betty suddenly whipped out a headless robo-kitten from her wheelchair bag in the common area? As someone who has worked in nursing homes, I can attest to this being a horrifically bad idea.

Also, who decided removing the kitty’s head would be better than shortening the legs or making the body smaller? Ichabod Crane? That’s one I’m at a loss to understand. I take comfort in knowing these are only prototypes.

As would be expected, CES showcased a multitude of new autonomous vehicle technologies. Of note, Sony unveiled their beefed-up version of Volvo’s driver fatigue/impairment warning system from last year. Both systems claim to observe human driving habits through cameras and sensors. Should you seem impaired, a verbal warning (in your mom’s voice) alerts you to the fact that you need a nap. Or something like that.

Another fun tech advancement seen at CES was a television screen that rotates like a cellphone or tablet. So now your significant other can nag you about how you orient the screen for pictures on all of your devices. Yay.

While perusing the list of new and safe robotic lifestyle-enhancing-products, perhaps most concerning to me is the “distinked” possibility of a future stand-off between the Roll-bot and SmellSense.

The names are pretty self-explanatory. Roll-bot can be summoned via Bluetooth technology to bring a roll of toilet paper should the unfortunate occasion of realizing there is no toilet paper after you’ve completed a bodily function that requires clean-up. (Apparently the developers have no children or spouses they can text from the bathroom to help them, bless their hearts.)

SmellSense is a screen/sensor combo that detects bad smells inside the bathroom with one component with a screen placed outside the door that alerts everyone outside the bathroom you might have just melted the septic system with hydrogen-sulfide foulness. Because privacy is one thing, but avoiding inadvertently having your eyebrows singed off by a previous occupant is an important step towards the future.

How long will it be before Roll-bot is refused entry by Smell-bot because of atmospheric conditions?

Only time will tell.