A vacuum cleaner that knows when the floor is dirty could be on the way

Irish company Movidius is driving technology that helps machines to teach themselves

Imagine a world in which your home security camera will notice that the living room needs to be hoovered and will send your robot vacuum cleaner to deal with the mess without any human intervention. It will recognise furniture in the room that it can move out of the way to clean underneath. Or perhaps you want a high-tech personal attendant, fetching certain items to bring them to you?

All that could be closer than you think, and an Irish company is behind it. Movidius has created the Fathom Neural Compute stick, a standalone deep-learning acceleration module that works hand in hand with the Fathom deep-learning software framework to bring a little bit of smart machine learning to devices in the future without any need for the cloud.

It's a low-cost, low-powered way for developers to add artificial intelligence to their next generation of products. It is based on the company's Myriad 2 processor, running the neural network at under 1 watt of power. Costing under $100 - about €80 - the stick is initially being targeted at researchers, according to Movidius chief technology officer, David Moloney, but there could be a market for it among makers.

Neural networks

Neural networks can be used to facilitate everything from object recognition and natural speech recognition to self-driving cars and smart intrusion detection, meaning the possibilities for developers are endless. Machines can essentially teach themselves, handling challenging tasks much better than previously possible.


“It facilitates much more autonomous behaviour,” said Mr Moloney.

It could also mean a change of behaviour for smartphone users, eliminating the need to spend time every day tapping through apps to control home appliances.

“Since the introduction of the iPhone 2007, we’ve been subject to the ‘tyranny’ of smartphones,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be just great if all the stuff you had at home would just work? You could give some general high-level directives about what you want to achieve and then don’t bother me with the details. That’s really the promise of this type of technology.”


If it’s all sounding a bit too much like Skynet and a Terminator-style nightmare, don’t panic just yet. Machine learning and networks of this type are still at a relatively early stage, although interest in the technology is growing.

The Fathom announcement is the latest in a string of success for the Irish company. Movidius has this year signed deals with Google and drone-maker Phantom, as well as with Flir Systems.

There could also be a knock-on effect for the company’s Dublin hub, with staff numbers expected to grow. Movidius has been hiring over the past two years, going from 15 employees to more than 50 in that time.

“We envisage hiring in line with that kind of rate,” said Mr Moloney.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist