Eat lead, robots!

Last week the Minneapolis City Council gave the wink-and-nod to an agency looking to assemble an army of robots. Agency staff wanted The Council's go-ahead to request $1 million in Federal money for the development of these droids and their deployment in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"We all love robots," says Lisa Smestad of the city's Department of Environmental Services and master-planner of what she hopes will be a robot revolution.

Her robot-soldier is the Scooba. Doesn't ring a bell? It's the floor-mopping sibling of the As-Seen-On-TV Roomba. Her enemy is lead-contaminated paint dust-the kind that makes kids sick, or worse.

It turns out the contractors trained in the complexities of swapping contaminated windows and trim in homes and apartments can be a bit lax when it comes to cleaning up the poisoned dust the job creates. "A lot of people that are good at ripping out contaminated windows," Smestad says, "are not good at mopping floors."

Ever since Smestad brought a Scooba home for herself on the good word of a coworker, she's been imagining it in the service of her city's decade-long battle against lead-poisoning in children.

It's a long-shot, sure, but Minneapolis has won $12 million in Federal funding already, and with that money the city has significantly reduced lead poisoning in kids under six. There were 2,000 of them in a 1995 count. By 2006, the count was 350.

The city's goal is zero poisoning by 2010. Summon the robots.

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