Are robot vacuums worth it? Do they really work?

Today, robotic vacuum cleaners have become so popular that they help keep floors clean in almost every American home. But if you have not got this wonderful gadget yet, perhaps you are wondering: are robot vacuums worth it?

Well, we hope that after reading you will get an answer. In this article, we will also answer the question “How does Roomba work?” in order to understand, using the example of a leading brand, which technologies are used in robotic vacuum cleaners and how they provide thorough floor cleaning.

What is a robot vacuum?

It is a compact, small robotic vacuum cleaning device that moves around home automatically. The dirt and debris are picked up with vacuum and spinning brushes just like an upright traditional vacuum cleaner. Many robot vacuum models are available in the market today under the price range of $50 to $1800. They are intended to conduct daily or weekly cleaning in order to maintain a spotless home among periodic vacuum sessions. A robot vacuum will clean your floor without any manual help.

The most common robotic vacuum in the U.S. is iRobot Roomba that is accessible in various models with advanced hi-tech features and base color options. The height of robotic vacuums is about 3 to 4 inches, which help in cleaning beneath the upholstery.

How do robot vacuums work? The general principles

Now, you may be wondering how the robot vacuums work? Robot vacuum features a flailing brush that is side-mounted for pushing dirt below the machine and other brushes rotating counter-clockwise picks up the dirt. The vacuum then moves the grime into a storage dustbin.

Unlike conventional cleaner, the robot vacuum moves with 2 big tractor-style wheels that are powered by electric motor separately. The wheels have the ability to turn into opposite directions that clean almost all space it moves onto. They have a built-in sensor detector, laser technology and a camera that aids in room’s floor mapping.

Moreover, the suction power differs between models and the floor surface. The suction level is adjusted according to the surroundings of the floor. Robot vacuums work best for homes with hardwood flooring. To ensure bump safety against furniture, it comes with ingenious features. Moving on to the battery timings, these vacuums last for about 70 minutes per single charge. Some high-end robot vacuums offer a run time of 130-150 minutes.

How does Roomba work?

All Roomba models usually have 13 inches diameter and are 3.5 inches tall. Roomba vacuum is powered by a rechargeable onboard Li-Ion battery that offers a runtime of 2 hours when fully charged. It moves by 2 large tracked wheels that are motor-driven. Roomba features a total of 5 motors for driving wheels, vacuum, side-brush spinning and for the agitator assembly. 

It comprises of a 3-part cleaning assembly.

  • Sidespin brush: It directs dust and debris underneath the device
  • Agitator: It features 2 counter-rotating agitator brushes that pick up the dirt. Above the brushes, 2 dirt sensors are an acoustic impact. When Roomba picks up a large amount of dust, the sensor detects it and commands Roomba to roll on that area more.
  • Vacuum: It sucks up all the dirt and directs it towards the bin.

Although a series of pre-programmed instructions are followed, Roomba uses the in-built iRobot’s AWARE Robotic Intelligence System to work things out and requires no human input. This system comprises of multiple sensors that collaborate with the microprocessor.

Roomba sensors

The thing which makes robot vacuums smart is the on-board sensors. Roomba and other robot vacuums use multiple sensors to detect hazards and obstacles, calculate how far it has gone and areas to cover. The sensors activate the programmed behaviors which determine the response of the robot. 

Obstacle sensors

As the name suggests, these sensors detect obstacles around their cleaning path that includes furniture, toys and similar objects. These sensors are found on the vacuum’s bumper that is capable of absorbing shocks. The sensor triggers when the bumper hits an object and moves away to a clear path. Roomba features a photocell and object-touch sensor on its plastic bumper with an infrared beam on top. The infrared beam locates obstruction and walls that allows Roomba to slow down when approaching these obstacles. Roomba stops itself when obstacle hits the object-sensitive bumper.

With the self-charger, Roomba returns and connects to the charger on its own when it has a low battery. It does so by using the front bumper’s infrared receiver. If the battery is low, the vacuum searches for infrared signals that charger emits. It tracks the signals and attaches to the charger itself. 

Cliff sensors

Stairs may be the greatest robot vacuum hazard; it can be damaged by a tumble. So, for this reason, Cliff sensors are a major safety feature in robot vacuums. Roomba can also detect steep drops and stairs by underneath mounted four infrared sensors. The cliff sensors send infrared signals constantly and are expected to bounce back right away. If signals are interrupted or don’t back, Roomba concludes that it has reached a cliff or stairs and changes its direction.

Wall sensors

It is another infrared sensor that is located on the bumper’s right side and detects walls. This helps the vacuum to clean the point edges where the floor and wall meet without hitting the wall. These sensors also assist the Roomba to track open doors and find new places for cleaning.

Piezoelectric sensor

This dirt-detect sensor helps Roomba to know when it strikes a dirt patch. If some grime or fragments hit the sensor, electric impulses generate that is proportional to the amount of dirt. When excessive dust is present, vacuum retraces the steps, cleaning thoroughly and effectively in the second round.

Roomba algorithm

Using a pre-set algorithm, Roomba establishes its route of cleaning that achieves full-floor coverage. To clean large spaces and areas, it uses sweeping and outward spiral motion. After which it heads to the room’s perimeter. The Roomba algorithm uses wall-following and random bounce cleaning methods and thinks that the perimeter is reached when it hits an obstacle.

Some models of Roomba have a Virtual wall feature that uses an infrared beam. The lighthouse mode aids vacuum to know when one room ends and the other room starts, so it can properly clean one room before it moves to the next. The virtual wall mode allows you to set boundaries for a robot vacuum with the help of infrared signals.

How does Roomba map a room?

The high-end and new versions of robot vacuums like Samsung POWERbots and Roomba 900 series have dropped the idea of random cleaning and moved on to a new advanced navigation technique called Vision Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (VSLAM). This technology uses onboard infrared cameras that take pictures of rooms including furniture, walls, doorways, etc. building up an image gradually. This implies that these vacuums can clean faster and move confidently.

Other mapping methods used in robot vacuum include LIDAR for Light Detection and Ranging. Laser navigation uses a spinning laser to accurately map out your home. It doesn’t require the light to be in the home to work. The robot vacuum uses the collected data (pictures and sensors) to create the room’s map for thorough and fast cleaning. These vacuums also tend to move in orderly straight lines.

The advanced high-end robot vacuums like Neato Robotics’ Botvac D7 map the floor plan of your home using the radar range finder. The latest Roomba i7+ comes with persistent mapping; not only does it map home, but it also recognizes the room’s layout.

Do robot vacuums really work?

In terms of quality of vacuuming, they are as good as or even better than most upright vacuums on hard floors. Robot vacuums pick up all the large debris on high power and airflow. These pick up everything that they come across on surface including fine to large debris, pet hair, and food. One of the most important things to consider when deciding if a robot vacuum is worth it is the navigation and obstacle avoidance.

Several companies are now producing smart navigation bots that clean in straight efficient lines saving much battery. Robot vacuums make sure that it cleans every area of the house. With high-end models, you get Wi-Fi and app support that helps you program a schedule and track the cleaning areas via your phone

If intelligent Roomba feels that the brushes might damage or tangle cables, wires or tassels, the rotating is stopped immediately and changes the path. Some models of robot vacuums like Samsung POWERbot, also come with an extendable arm to clean up dirt and crumbs from walls.

People with mobility issues and the elderly can benefit a great deal from the robotic cleaning device. As they are small in size, storage and transport are very easy. Robot vacuums work on all types of floor surfaces without any floor damage, thanks to soft brush bristles.

This question will arise that do robot vacuums work on carpet? Yes, they do work well on low-pile carpets but they struggle a lot cleaning high-pile carpets and rugs especially. If your house has low to medium pile carpeting, then all robot vacuums will effectively suck up all the dirt. The good news is that models like Robovac 11+ and Roomba 980 works great on high-pile heavy carpets.

Drawbacks of robot vacuum

Robot vacuum faces a backlash when it comes to navigation and mapping on dark floors. It also may not be suitable for a place with lots of furniture. Being compact, the bust din is very tiny that fills up in no time and has to be emptied manually each time. The robot vacuum is a good choice for you if:

  • You live in a cluttered apartment or home
  • There are heavy-pile carpets and thick rugs
  • Pets not house-trained
  • Your home has many obstacles

So, are robot vacuums worth it?

A robot vacuum is definitely a luxury rather than a necessity; every home should have its little cleaner doing the chores while you are out. If you are not a big fan of upright vacuums and prefer hands-free cleaning operation, the robot vacuum is worth it; a good choice for routine cleaning. It keeps your place clean and tidy picking up pet litter, hair, debris, crumbs, dust, and dense particles. They offer effective cleaning and easy storage.

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