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By John Roach, Contributing Writer, NBC News
A triangular gadget called the Brainlink is attached to an old Roomba vacuum cleaner. Controlled via Bluetooth connection with a smartphone or computer, the device can teach old robots new tricks. Add-on sensors, for example, teach Roomba to avoid hitting walls.BirdBrain Technologies / Carnegie Mellon University

Here's how aging robots such as the Roomba vacuum cleaner and the Robosapien toybot might gain a new life: With a triangular wireless attachment called Brainlink, any old IR-controlled bot can become your best friend again.

This gadget establishes a Bluetooth connection with an Android-based smartphone or laptop computer. You can then write and run programs that communicate with Brainlink, which in turn talks to the robot via infrared signals that mimic the signals coming from the device's remote control.

So, for example, a "joystick" app on a phone can control the Robosapien with the touch of directional buttons. In "puppet mode," the phone's accelerometer is used to control the bot – tilt the phone to the left and the robot leans to the left.

The device, which was built by a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company BirdBrain Technologies, also comes with ports for connecting additional sensors. This might come in handy, for example, to upgrade the Roomba with proximity sensors so that it can avoid hitting walls.

The technology is aimed squarely at "people who like to hack around or for educators who want to spice up a computer science or electrical engineering class," Tom Lauwers, who heads BirdBrain Technologies, said in a news release.

That is, casual users of Roombas and Robosapiens may find their faithful old dogs more interesting and fun in an age when robot technology is growing by leaps and bounds.

To learn more about the Brainlink, check out the introductory video below.

More stories about robot upgrades:

John Roach is a contributing writer for To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.