I don’t think anyone likes to do housework. Vacuuming, moping and doing the dishes are a necessary evil. Fortunately there are companies that are working on making those chores a lot easier. iRobot has a line of cleaning robots that will vacuum and mop for you. We got our hands on the Roomba vacuuming robot and put it through our tests.
- Vacuums dirt and debris from carpets and hard floors
- Works great on pet hair
- Gets under beds and couches every time it cleans
- Automatically returns to charge itself
Even though the Roomba is a vacuum it does not vacuum as you would. Roomba is a robot, so it uses a different cleaning method than you would. The Roomba attempts to map the room and the objects in the room, and then move about the room in a pattern that would cover the entire floor. Its compact size enables it to reach under furniture and other hard-to-reach places. Plus, because Roomba works at the press of a button, you can use it more frequently to help you maintain a cleaner home. Roomba is great for cleaning up pet hair; its counter-rotating brushes actually pull the hair out of rugs and off your hard floor.
To make things even easier you do not need to program anything. Roomba uses its sensors to figure out the size and shape of your room, and then continually readjusts its cleaning pattern until it has covered the entire floor, multiple times. In fact it will keep going until it either runs out of time or battery.
The iRobot Roomba also includes a way to program new functionality. Through the iRobot Roomba Open Interface you can control or modify Roomba’s motors and remotely monitor its sensors via the serial port. Keep in mind though that attempts to alter Roomba’s programming will void the warranty, and the Roomba Open Interface must be used under the terms of the End User License Agreement. Even though the possibilities are endless you really need to be careful because you could end up with a dead robot if you mess things up.
The Roomba Scheduler also comes with two scheduling virtual walls. A virtual wall is a little box that sends out a signal in a line that tells the Roomba not to cross the line. You can use these to keep the Roomba out of certain rooms.
The remote which also comes with the Roomba Scheduler, is used to set up a schedule for both the Roomba and the Virtual walls. Setting up a schedule is really easy and once you have it set up you just need to beam the schedules to each device and you are done. You can also use the remote to activate the Roomba’s various cleaning programs. If you feel really adventurous you can also use the directional pad to control the direction that your Roomba goes, like a remote control car. This is mainly used to direct the Roomba toward its base so it can charge, but can also be used to direct the Roomba toward a dirty area.
The small circular shape of the Roomba makes it ideal for moving around your room. If it had corners it might get stuck on furniture or other obstructions. Without corners it can slide around items and not get caught.
The top of the Roomba is where you will find all the controls. There are four large buttons, an IR port and a serial port. The four buttons are Power, Spot, Clean and Max. These buttons turn on and activate the different cleaning modes that are available. Spot clean causes the Roomba to focus on one particular spot and then return to the dock when it is done. Clean will cause the Roomba to roam around the room for about an hour and then return to the dock. Max, like clean, causes the Roomba to roam around the room; but this time it goes until the battery is almost drained, about 2 hours, and then returns to the dock. Each of the buttons lights up to indicate which action is being performed. There are also two additional lights, dirt detect and status. The dirt detect light comes on when the Roomba senses a particularly dirty spot. The status light is used to indicate what the Roomba is doing.
The front of the Roomba is a big bumper. This bumper is how the Roomba knows when there is a wall or other obstruction. As it moves around and bumps into things the Roomba will maneuver around them.
The back of the Roomba is a dust bin. The dust bin is not really big, but is where the Roomba puts all the dirt and other debris it collects. Inside the dust bin is a filter that keeps the dust from getting inside the vacuum and clogging or damaging it.
The bottom of the Roomba is where you will find the brushes, sensors, and wheels. The brushes are easily removed so they can be cleaned or replaced. The brushes are covered with a little grill that keeps them from falling out and keeps large objects from getting stuck in the brushes. There are sensors all over the underside. There are sensors directly under the bumper. These sensors are used to detect when the Roomba is over stairs. When these sensors detect a sudden drop off, the Roomba will immediately turn around so that it does not fall down the stairs. The sensor that is behind the brushes is the dirt detect sensor. As the dirt passes this sensor it will tell the Roomba if it passes a really dirty spot so that it can spend more time on it. The front wheel does not do much, it is only there for balance. The two side wheels are what push the Roomba around. They are made from a very heavy duty rubber which gives them lots of traction and the ability to move around the room without a lot of trouble.
The virtual walls are really simple. The controls consist of a power button and a slider switch that determines how far the signal goes. Holding down the power button puts the virtual wall in schedule mode and makes it able to receive a schedule from the remote.
When you first open the box you will notice that iRobot took some time and actually designed a nice looking package. Most people will only look at the packaging once, and once it is unpacked they will never look at it again, but it is nice for that one time to have something appealing to look at.
After unpacking the Roomba, installing the battery is the next thing to do. Installing the battery is really easy, the battery is easily identifiable as the big yellow brick and it slips nice and firmly into the bottom of the Roomba. Once it is installed, and before you ever turn on the Roomba, you should make sure it is fully charged. The battery will come with a bit of a charge when you get it and it will be tempting to turn it on and watch it go, but you must resist and let it charge for a good 16 hours. This is the amount of time that is recommended by iRobot and it gives the battery plenty of time to charge and condition itself for later use. Not charging a battery fully can cause it to not last as long. The Roomba has two ways of getting a charge. You can plug it in to a wall directly, or you can plug in the base and then put the Roomba on the base. For the first charge it will probably be easier to plug it in directly and then use the base for all the charges after that. The nice thing about the base is that the Roomba will find it all by itself when it is done vacuuming. You will never have to tell it where it is, unless the Roomba is in a far away bedroom and about to run out of power. Then you can direct it to the base using the remote and the arrows. Once the Roomba sees the base again it will dock and start charging.
Using the Roomba is a piece of cake. If you just want to turn it on and let it go about its business then all you need to do is press the power button and then the clean button. After this it will proceed to move about the room and clean your floor. If you have other rooms that connect to this room then the Roomba will also find its way into those rooms, unless you use the virtual walls.
The Roomba has three cleaning modes: Spot, Clean, and Max. Clean and Max are the same except that clean only goes for about an hour and Max will go until the battery is about dead, which is about 2 hours. Spot clean is different because it will spiral out and then back in to where it was when you pressed the button. Because you cannot schedule a spot clean you are suppose to either set the Roomba down on the spot or direct it with the controls to a spot and hit the spot button. When it is done cleaning the spot it will return to the base.
|Clean Mode Time Elapsed|
To get more advanced you can setup a schedule so the Roomba will vacuum while you are at work or sleeping. You can only setup schedules by using the remote. Setting up a schedule is really easy. The first thing you do is lift the lid on the remote and press both the new/save button and the delete button together. Pressing these buttons together puts the remote in the set time mode. Setting the time is crucial because if it is wrong, the schedule will start at the wrong time. Once the time is set you can press the new/save button to start a new schedule. Once you have all your schedules in you simply turn on the Roomba and virtual walls, set the virtual walls into receive mode, point the remote at each device, and hit send all. When scheduling the Roomba it will always go into the Clean mode, which means it will vacuum for about an hour and then return to the base.
One quirk about using the remote is that you can only have one device on at a time. For example, if you want to control or upload a schedule to the Roomba then you cannot have any virtual walls turned on. Likewise, if you want to upload a schedule to the virtual walls then you can only have one on at a time and the Roomba must be off.
I set this Roomba to go off every night to see how well it did at picking things up. Every morning I woke up and the dust bin was full and the filter was covered with dirt. After emptying both I put it back together for the next time. Every day it would have a full dust bin. I do have a dog in the house so a lot of what was in the dust bin was dog hair. The real challenge is to run my normal vacuum over the carpet and then run the Roomba and see if it is able to pick up any additional items.
If you sit and watch the Roomba as it vacuums, and you probably will for the first couple times, you will notice that the path it takes is not always the most logical. The path the Roomba takes can even seem a bit random. There was even a time when the Roomba started going across my room and when it got about half way it turned and went a different direction. I cannot explain the path it takes, but eventually it covered the whole floor. There were areas of the floor that it covered more than others; in fact, it liked to go behind my rocking chair more then anywhere else.
I mentioned I have a dog in the house and a concern for some would be how the dog reacts to it. At first my dog showed the vacuum some curiosity, she would sniff at the vacuum and watch it as it moved around the room trying to avoid it as it moved about; but after a while she got used to it and now she is just annoyed about having to get up and move whenever it comes around. Sometimes she ignores it so much that it will run into her before she notices it.
If you have a large house I would not recommend that you try and get one Roomba to vacuum the entire house by its self. You may want to consider more than one, and if you have floors that need to be moped you could get the Scooba to do the moping for you. The room I had it in is about 12′ x 13′ and it seemed to be a good size. If your rooms are a bit bigger then it should still be able to cover everything. I noticed that because of the random nature of the paths it follows it may run out of time or battery power before it finishes if the room is too big or it is trying to do more than one room. For example, I had it doing a hallway and a room. It would go into a room and then come out before it had finished, and then return to the room later and it did this several times. Sometimes it would vacuum the same places and sometimes it would vacuum different places. This seemed like a waste and if the Roomba had stayed in the room until it was done it could have used its time a lot better.
Regular cleaning is also something you need to do so the Roomba is able to keep your room clean. In addition to emptying the bin, which I recommend you do after each vacuuming, you should also regularly clean the brushes, filter and sensors. To help with this iRobot includes a cleaning tool, extra brushes, and an extra filter with the Roomba. Removing the brushes for cleaning is really easy. The brushes are held in place by a little grill that is held down by a couple of clips; just push the clips in and the grill lifts off. After the grill lifts off, the brushes come out really easily. To help you get the brushes back in the right spot iRobot gave them different size fittings. The different size fittings keep you from putting the brushes in the wrong place. Below the brushes is the dirt sensor. This needs to be cleaned regularly so that the Roomba is able to detect dirty areas on your floor. The other area to clean is the sensors in the bumper. These sensors are used to look for stairs. If these sensors get dirty the Roomba may fall down your stairs and break.
Warranty and Support
iRobot covers the Roomba with a 1 year warranty that covers parts and labor. They do not cover any damage that may occur to your property during the use of the Roomba. For example, it is recommended that you do not use the Roomba to vacuum rugs. It can get caught on the corners and edges and may ruin the rug. If this happens iRobot is not responsible for replacing the rug.
The Roomba is an interesting device. I had a lot of fun using it and it really did make my life a bit easier. Since I am a dog owner it really came in handy because it would pick up all the dog hair every night and I could wake up to a nice clean floor. I could then save my deep cleaning for the weekends. The retails price of $329 may place it out of reach for some people, but it is no more expensive than a really nice vacuum. This actual model seems to be getting phased out and a new Roomba scheduler with intelli-bin is taking its place. The new Roomba has a slightly higher retail price of $349. If you have a pet in the house and you are tired of cleaning up hair everyday then this would be a great device for you. If you are tired of having to clean everyday and you want a little break then you will really enjoy the Roomba. As always compare prices before purchasing.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|