iRobot vacuum cleaner robots took photos and sent them to other companies for AI training

By: Maksim Panasovskyi | 20.12.2022, 16:42
iRobot vacuum cleaner robots took photos and sent them to other companies for AI training

In the fall of 2020, a Venezuelan forum published photos taken by iRobot's Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. The devices took pictures and sent them to other companies to train artificial intelligence.

Here's What We Know

MIT Technology Review reports this. The authors received several photos that were taken by the robots. One of the pictures shows a woman in a lavender T-shirt with her shorts down to the middle of her thighs, sitting on the toilet.

The photos vary in type and "degree of sensitivity." The article said the most intimate images were of a young woman on the toilet, whose face was hidden. The author of the photos was a robot vacuum cleaner iRobot Roomba J7 series. It sent the images to startup Scale AI to train artificial intelligence.

Other pictures show rooms in different angles, furniture, decorations and pets. And the device recognized the items in the photo, so they are framed and captioned. For example, "TV", "flower", "ceiling lamp".

iRobot, which was recently acquired by Amazon for $1.7 billion, has confirmed that the photos were taken by vacuum cleaners, but there is a nuance. It is that these pictures were taken by experimental devices with hardware and software modifications. Such robots are not available for purchase.

They have been given to people who have signed an agreement confirming that they are aware that the robots transmit photos and videos back to the company for study. iRobot also notes that the devices are labeled with a sticker that reads "Video Recording In Progress." In addition, the recipients of the robots had to remove from the field of view of the device anything they consider sensitive, including children. By the way, one of the robots photographed an 8- or 9-year-old child who was lying on the floor and looking directly into the camera lens.

In simple terms, the company claims that everyone who received an experimental version of Roomba agreed that the robot vacuum cleaner would follow them. However, iRobot did not provide the authors of the article with an example of the agreement or share the contact information of the people who received the modified devices.

The authors of the piece only received 15 images. According to iRobot, in total its robotic vacuum cleaners took more than 2 million images so that experts from Scale AI and other companies can improve the performance of artificial intelligence algorithms.

James Baussmann, a spokesman for iRobot, said that the firm "has taken every precaution to ensure the safe handling of personal data in accordance with applicable law. He also noted that the images sent to MIT Technology Review were "transmitted in violation of a written non-disclosure agreement between iRobot and the image annotation service provider."

iRobot CEO Colin Angle responded to the incident. He said that the company is terminating its relationship with the service provider that allowed the leak. In addition, the manufacturer has launched an investigation and promises to take measures to prevent similar situations.

Source: MIT Technology Review