This Sucks: How Your Robovac Could Spy on You

Illustration by Jason A. Keisling

Those cute little autonomous floor cleaners could be sweeping up more than just dust in your house. A team of researchers including a University of Maryland computer scientist has shown how the devices could be remotely hacked.

Assistant Professor Nirupam Roy was part of the group that collected information from the laser-based navigation system in a popular vacuum robot and applied signal processing and deep learning techniques to recover speech and identify television programs playing in the same room as the device.

In addition, the laser-enabled house maps that the devices construct could give malicious hackers or even marketers insight about what’s in your abode.

“We welcome these devices into our homes, and we don’t think anything about it,” says Roy, who holds a joint appointment in UMD’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. “But we have shown that even though these devices don’t have microphones, we can repurpose the systems they use for navigation to spy on conversations and potentially reveal private information.”


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