Many of us get our ideas of how robots look like and how they work from TV and the movies. It may seem disappointing at first that current robots for home use aren’t quite as sophisticated as R2D2 and C3PO, nor do they look like Gemma Chan on BBC’s Humans. But the vacuum robots, despite their various limitations, do possess a charm of their own. In their own way, they’re cute too, and if you get the right models they can be darn useful.
Why Should You Get a Vacuum Robot?
If we’re being honest, some people just get a robot vacuum cleaner for the quirk factor. They’re fascinating to watch while they’re at work, they often play a jaunty tune while working, and they are sure conversation starters. Heck, if you have pets you can just record videos of how your dogs and cats interact with the robots. You’ll get lots of views in a very short time.
But there’s more to vacuum robots than just the cuteness factor:
- It saves you a lot of work. Robotic vacuum cleaners are automated machines, and they don’t really need you all that much. All that’s needed from you is to create a schedule for the robot, and you can just carry the device to the room you want to clean for the day. It can even go under furniture that often can be very difficult for people to clean.
- It can clean the room while you’re not there. If you don’t have any thick rugs that these machines can’t handle, then you don’t have to be there at all. The robot can clean your apartment at the time you like, so it can be as noisy as it wants and it’ll bother no one. Some robots can even be controlled by an app, so you can monitor its activities and you can activate it remotely.
- They can clean rooms very effectively. Many of the more advanced robots have high tech sensors that can make them operate very well. These sensors can map out the room and its contents, so that they can avoid obstacles and figure out an efficient cleaning path in the room. They also have sensors that can avoid stairs, and in some cases you can set an invisible boundary line that the robot won’t cross. They also have sensors that can detect dirt levels, so they can focus on a particularly grimy area. Robots run on rechargeable batteries, and some of these roots return to their home base to recharge when they are almost out of juice.
Vacuum Robots vs. Floor Mopping Robots
Since there are manual bagless vacuum cleaners that have floor mopping functions, it stands to reason that manufacturers would release robotic counterparts to these devices. Floor mopping robots don’t just have vacuum capabilities. They also add a scrubbing function, as well as a water-washing option and sometimes even a drying function. So the floor mopping robots can give you a much cleaner floor.
It may seem that the floor-mopping robots are more advanced than their robotic vacuum cousins, but that’s not really an accurate statement. Vacuum robots were here first, so manufacturers have had a lot of time tweaking the imperfections and developing advanced features. In contrast, floor-mopping robots often don’t have the features (like self-charging) which are more common among the vacuum robots. Self-recharging units that go back to its home base is a common feature among vacuum robots, but you don’t see that often among the floor moppers.
You also have to understand that with more functions in floor-mopping robots, the reality is that there’s a greater chance that something will go wrong with them. With the models that use water, these mistakes can have more serious consequences. A vacuum robot may be stuck in place (often in very thick rugs) so you may come home with a robot that has wasted its battery power flailing in place. But you may come home to a terrible mess when a water-washing robot messes up.
Why are Roomba Vacuum Cleaners so Popular?
When you really think about it, it’s not all that hard to understand why Roomba vacuum cleaners are so popular among the masses. A large part of it is because they came first on the scene. The iRobot company converted its military bomb disposal robotic units into the more home-friendly vacuum cleaners way back in 2002. The Roomba brought the vacuum cleaner industry into the robotic age, and as the trailblazer the Roomba brand became synonymous with the vacuum robot niche.
Since iRobot has had 14 years to advance the best robot vacuum concept, its Roomba models feature capabilities you may not find in its competitors. Here some of the benefits you get, depending on the model you choose.
- Self-charging. The Roomba knows when it’s running out of juice. When that happens, it actually goes back on its own to its home base and recharges. You don’t ever have to come home to a vacuum cleaner that needs your help to recharge.
- “Dirt Detect” focused cleaning. Many Roomba models come with a variety of acoustic and optical sensors. These sensors can find areas that are especially dirty with lots of dust, pet hair, and dirt, and the robot can concentrate its efforts on these areas with multiple passes so that these areas can get the attention they need.
- Surface adaptability. It can work with several types of floors, including hardwood, tile, and even carpets as long as it’s not too deep and shaggy. It’s also just 3.6 inches in height, so it can go under tables, chairs, cabinets, and beds and eliminate dust clumps that you may have trouble reaching. There’s even a spinning side brush that sweeps corners and room edges so that the debris and dirt can be picked up by the suction.
- Advanced navigation. It has the iAdapt navigational sensors so that it can map the room it’s supposed to clean, and that includes the furniture inside the room along with all the clutter you usually find in a typical home. It also has sensors that enable it to avoid falling down stairs. In some units, you even have the vSLAM technology that makes use of visual landmarks so that the robot doesn’t get lost. It knows where it has been so it doesn’t clean spaces that have already been cleaned.
- Continuous work. The batteries are good enough to last 2 hours straight on a full charge. Then when it nears the empty level on its battery power, it heads straight to its base and recharges. After that’s done, it can also resume its work, and won’t go over the spots it has already cleaned. You can also schedule it to work on a schedule, so that every day it starts its cleaning duties at a time of your choosing. You won’t need to have to give it fresh instructions.
- Multi-room. You can even set it to clean an entire level of your house. Special accessories can provide virtual walls for the unit, so that it can map and clean an entire room. Then when it’s done there, it can move on to another room. The only time it needs your help to clean is when you need it to move to another floor.
- Minimal maintenance. Not only does it need much from you for the Roomba to work, but even for maintenance you’re only required to do very little. Some models have the Tangle-Free AeroForce Debris Extractors, which keeps messes like hair from tangling up and jamming the machine. In other vacuum cleaners, this is a constant annoyance. But for you it shouldn’t be a problem at all.
Essentially, what you only have to do is to check the unit every now and then. It will tell you when its dirt bin is full so you can empty it and it can go back to work with maximum efficiency.
- App. In the most advanced units, you can even control it with an app on your smartphone. You can use your mobile device to start cleaning just by tapping a button on the screen. You can set a schedule, and adjust settings such as the number of passes and to specify the power you need.
- Highly efficient cleaning. Roomba robots can be very powerful and helpful. They are however, mostly designed for “supplemental use”. That means you can use it every day so that the floor doesn’t accumulate too much dust and dirt. When the weekend comes, you won’t need to take as much time to clean your house with an upright or canister vacuum cleaner.
- Powerful vacuum suction. Many of the latest models come with the AeroForce Gen 2 Motor, which delivers suction air power equivalent to 5 times that of previous models. The latest is the Gen 3 motor, which is so powerful it is 10 times the strength of the previous models. This motor is great even for rugs and carpets,
Aside from these tech features, Roomba vacuum robots are more reliable, and you can expect it work for a very long time. So despite the fact that Roomba models are more expensive, more people get the Roomba than any other model.
How Does a Robot Vacuum Work?
Here are a few technical facts about these automated machines:
- Battery power. Vacuum robots typically run on rechargeable batteries, so that it doesn’t have to factor in a power cord into its operations. Imagine if it’s powered by a cord, and you can understand the problem with that scenario. The cord can get all tangled up as the unit moves across furniture, while the length of the cord also limits the range of the robot. Earlier models used to need about 7 hours to recharge fully, but nowadays the more premium models need only as little as 3 hours for a full charge. That’s enough for about 2 hours of continuous operations.
- Motors. Typically you don’t have a single motor running every part of the robot. Instead, you have a different motor running a specific part of the unit. It may have as many as 5 motors, including a motor for each of the two wheels. Another motor is for the spinning side brush, one drives the agitator assembly, and the last powers the vacuum.
- Navigation. The navigation sensors enable the unit to pick the direction it’s going, and this is the main part of the robot that drives up the price of the unit. Sophisticated sensors that can detect walls, furniture, clutter, and stairs accurately can really boost the price. In a basic Roomba, the system can adapt to new data input as frequently as 67 times per second!
Once you press the “clean” button, the vacuum robot sends out an infrared signal, in every direction. It then takes not how long it takes to bounce back to the robot’s signal receiver. This gives it a general idea of how big the cleaning area is.
It then starts to move. Some models use straight lines to clean a room, while others like the Roomba start out in a spiral direction that moves outward. Steering is a straightforward matter. When it needs to change direction, only one of the wheels is powered so that it can turn.
It then uses its sensors to move around safely. It has infrared sensors in the underside of the front part, and if it is moving on a flat surface then the signal should bounce back to the unit receiver right away. So if it encounters a cliff boundary like the edge of the stairs, the signal takes a longer time to bounce back and the robot turns away from the edge.
The machine may also have mechanical sensors on its bumpers, and if it bumps into something then the robot understands that it has hit an obstacle. It will back up, rotate, and move forward until it can find a clear path.
It also has wall sensors that use infrared which enables the robot to clean along the walls without having to touch them. These sensors can also detect furniture, so it can clean around these things without having to bump into them first. In general, despite the crazy path it can sometimes take it will cover the entire floor completely.
When the unit’s battery power gets low, often the machine can get back to its charger base and recharge automatically. The machine just follows the infrared signal emitted by the charger.
You can—and should—help the unit out by removing unnecessary clutter from the floor so that the robot has an easier time moving around. You should also remove any floor items that the unit can’t handle, such as deep-pile carpeting. You can also block its path so it won’t go out the door, simply by closing the door, putting books in the doorway, or by using a “virtual wall”. This virtual wall also sends out infrared signals that tell the unit to turn back. But the advantage of this accessory is that you can use it for multi-room cleaning. Once the robot is done with a room, the virtual wall can still let the machine pass so it can clean another room.
- Cleaning. The 3-stage cleaning process used by the Roomba is a marvel of simplicity and efficiency. First it uses the counter-rotating extractors to agitate and loosen the debris, and then the dirt is lifted up from the surface of the floor. The powerful suction then pulls the dirt straight to the bin compartment. All this time, it uses a very effective filter that traps up to 99% of all particles, including pollen and other allergens. It can capture particles as small as 10 microns (0.01 mm).
The unit may also have dirt sensors that tell it when a certain spot is especially dirty. That enables the unit to make a lot more passes over the spot so that the dirt is removed properly.
Since robots are typically small, the dirt bin inside is small as well. So it will usually end up with a full bin after cleaning a single room. That’s why if you’re using this while you’re at work, it’s best to let it clean only a single room each day. However, some of the more advanced (and more expensive) models now have charging base that allows the unit to dump the contents of its dust bin automatically, so that it can proceed cleaning with an empty bin.
If you want to know more about the technical background, visit the Wikipedia-Page.
Factors to Consider before you buy a robot vacuum
So how do you pick the right vacuum cleaner robot for your home? Here are some factors you may want to consider:
- Price. Unless you’re a billionaire and you don’t care about money, then the cost will always matter. Roombas are known to be one of the more expensive premium models with prices ranging from $375 to $900, but there are actually some other brands with much are much more costly. Some can cost up to $1,500 or even $1,800. It’s up to you to determine how much you can afford to pay and whether a larger price tag is worth the extra features.
- Performance. The point of the robot is to clean your floor, so of course you need to find out whether it can actually do the job. You should check if it can handle your carpets or your hard floors. Other questions you should ask include:
- How long can it operate on a full charge?
- How long does it to fully recharge?
- If you have a section of the floor covered by rugs, can the robot climb the extra height?
- Does it have a dirt sensor?
- How well does it maneuver around obstacles?
- Is it short enough that it can go under your bed and other piece of furniture?
- Can it do multiple passes?
- Does it return to its dock when it’s done or when it needs to recharge?
- Convenience. You should also take note of how much effort it actually saves you when you use this in lieu of a conventional vacuum cleaner. It should be very easy to use, and the maintenance should be light.
- How easy is it to learn the controls?
- Can you schedule its work?
- How noisy is it?
- Does it often jam up with hair?
- Is the bumper soft enough that it doesn’t damage wooden furniture?
- If you need an app to control it, does it offer you that option? Does it offer the accessories you need, like virtual walls, boundary markers, and remote control?
- Durability. Here you should check the warranty period, although for the most part your best bet is to read reviews on Amazon and other similar sites. Consumers can offer more truthful reports about how often a unit malfunctions. You’ll also get a fair idea of how long the robot will last when you use it regularly.
The Top 3 Robot Vacuum Cleaners for Pet Owners
Pet owners have to put up with a lot of shenanigans from their pet dogs and cats. But at least with the right vacuum cleaner robot they have a device that automatically picks up their shed hair without too much effort from you.
Vacuum cleaner robots come with different prices and features, so you need to determine the right one that matches your need and budget. Here are some of the best vacuum robots you can get which offer great benefits for your money.
These robots don’t just vacuum the floor. They can scrub or even wash the floor with water. What you don’t want is an overly complicated machine that doesn’t work reliably. You need something that can really clean a floor much better than a regular vacuum robot, and not a machine that makes bigger mess you need to fix when you get home.
Here are some of the best floor-mopping robots which give a lot of bang for your buck.