Monday, September 25, 2017
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iRobot ROOMBA Robot Vacuum

Because we have a family dog who is constantly shedding hair and bringing in bits of leaves and debri when he enters the doggie door, and because we have kids, our household has a higher demand for vacuuming than many. I could hardly wait to see what this famous robot vac could do. iRobot reports 1.2 million units sold in three years! We reviewed the latest model, called the Scheduler, which allows you to program in the time of day you want Roomba to do its work.

My first impression was one of simplicity and convenience, and that impression remains. Drop in the battery, set up the wall charger base, charge the unit for 16 hours (only the first time, thereafter charging takes under three hours), hit the clean button, and away Roomba goes. It intelligently navigates the room, using iRobot’s AWARE™ Robotic Intelligence System. This system uses dozens of sensors to monitor Roomba’s environment and it adjusts Roomba’s behavior up to 67 times a second. The instructions note that you should remove whatever obstacles that you can in the space it is to clean, because the more things Roomba has to deal with (chair legs, tricycles, toy trucks), the more time it will take to map out the room and clean.

It has four selectable cleaning modes, the first three are chosen by hitting one of three buttons on the top panel. In “clean” mode, Roomba automatically calculates the room size and adjusts its cleaning time appropriately. It may clean a floor space for up to 60 minutes and then return to its charging base. In “max” mode it will run until its battery is nearly depleted, or up to 120 minutes, and then return to its charging base. In Spot mode, it will spiral in and out of a circle approximately three feet in diameter, intensively cleaning an area. All of these functions were performed flawlessly by our Scheduler Roomba.

The Scheduler model allows you to program in the time of day you want it to clean. This is done with a handy remote. The remote uses infrared to send code to Roomba. When Roomba successfully reads the sent code and knows its schedule, it beeps a confirmation.

Left to right: charing base station and AC wall adapter, Roomba Scheduler vacuum cleaner and two virtual wall units.


It has dirt-detection sensors that ride above the brushes in its underside. When Roomba senses a particularly dirty area (you have spilled coffee grounds), a blue dirt-detect light goes on and Roomba turns to and concentrates on that area. After a cleaning session, or if Roomba stops while on a mission, it reports status—mission complete (green light), abandoned (yellow) or battery depleted (red).

Roomba has infrared emitters and sensors, and constantly looks around and adjusts its behavior so that it can track along walls and navigate obstacles. Two virtual walls come with the Scheduler. These can be used to mark an invisible line that Roomba will not cross. The virtual walls with the Scheduler have timers so that they activate when Roomba is doing its job. Roomba also has a pressure sensitive bump sensor along its leading edge. When it hits something it gently backs away, rotates and continues cleaning. On average, it covers the same area four times in a cleaning session. It will avoid stairs or other edges, and it easily transitions from tile to carpet to wooden surfaces. If it starts to take in something that is too large, it will stop and emit a warning beep. In fact, it will communicate any of nine messages depending on the number of beeps. The key to these are on iRobot’s helpful website under the Support button.

After the Roomba is finished, it’s advised to empty its bin. This is quite easy—you grab the aft edge, gently squeeze a tab where your thumb naturally falls, and the arc-shaped bin pulls away. In two seconds, the contents can be dumped and the bin snapped back in place. If a string or other debris gets snagged in the brushes, they are very easy to remove and clean.


How well does it work? Surprisingly well. We put this unit to work three to four times a week and our floors have never been cleaner; moreover, the need for weekend heavy vacuuming is now a fraction of what it was. Roomba has no problem picking up popcorn, Cheerios, salt, dirt or leaves and it does a surprisingly good job removing dog hair from our carpets. My wife Linda Atwood said that “although it’s just a vacuum cleaner, it’s the best non-human housekeeper you can imagine.” To me the major benefit, beyond a cleaner home, is that you can do other things while it vacuums, and the more it vacs, the less you do. No wonder over a million have sold— the Roomba improves the quality of home life. The Roomba Scheduler can be purchased directly from iRobot for $329.99. 


iRobot, (781) 345-0200