Review: iRobot Roomba series

With the rapid advances we are experiencing in robotics and artificial intelligence and the like, it surely won’t be long before the “Robopocalypse” comes when machines and robots rise up against us and condemn us all to a life of servitude. I, for one, would like to say at this point that I will welcome our new robot overlords…
However, in the meantime, we can sleep soundly in the knowledge that our future leaders are confined to slightly more menial tasks. This leads me to the subject of my review today: the Roomba series of robotic vacuum cleaners from the folks at iRobot.
I got mine about 10 months ago shortly after moving house. I am ashamed to admit that I am lazy when it comes to cleaning the house, and so a Roomba had been on my shopping list for a while. The only thing that had been stopping me was the hefty price tag.  The device I ended up buying was the Roomba 770 (£449.99 from the iRobot online store), but there is a wide range to cater for most people/wallets.
First impressions and what’s in the box
I have to admit; I bought it as a bit of a novelty item. I was unconvinced that a vacuum cleaner so small would have much effect at all, but thought it might be a bit of fun at least. If it worked half decently then I would be happy – as some cleaning would have been better than the no cleaning that normally gets done.
The 770 comes with a charging base, an IR remote, air filters, brush cleaning tools, and one “virtual wall” that can be set up to stop the Roomba from passing a certain point. Some more basic models come with less, and some more advanced models come with more.
On top of the device there is a display and a number of buttons (touch sensitive for the more expensive models) to allow you to program the device and also set commands (for example to spot clean, or head back to the charging dock). Underneath, there are the usual brushes you would expect of a vacuum cleaner, but also a three pronged side brush that rotates and sweeps dirt from one side in towards the main brushes in the centre. It is this side brush that enables a round device to clean even in corners of rooms. A section of the body housing the dust bin is removable, and contains the air filters that can also be removed for cleaning/replacement (see picture below).
What can it do?
The combination of hardware, electronics and on-board software enable the Roomba to carry out complex cleaning tasks autonomously, and also allows it to navigate around an area, ensuring all of it is vacuumed, but without damaging furniture, or cables etc. It can detect the size of the room that it is cleaning and adjusts the cleaning time accordingly. When it feels it has sufficiently cleaned the room, or if the battery is getting low, it will return itself to the charging dock and place itself on charge, ready for its next outing. Even if the Roomba heads towards a flight of stairs, it detects the drop before it goes over it, stops, and adjust its path accordingly.
How well does it perform?
The Roomba performed far and above my expectations, and I am so glad that I bought it. The ability to schedule cleaning means that my floors are vacuumed daily when I am out at work. Also, you can set it up in any environment without having to worry about whether it will cope – it will happily navigate its way around furniture, other obstacles, stairs, weird floorplan layouts and differing floor surfaces.
Admittedly it is not all sunshine and roses: there are one or two little niggles. For example, iRobot claim that the Roomba can detect when a loose cable starts to get tangled, and that the device will untangle itself and carry on, but I have often found a charging cable clogging up the brushes of mine. The device does detect a problem though and stops the cycle before any major damage is done. The small dirt bin is a minor annoyance – but it will warn you when the bin is full, so you just have to remember to empty it every few days. Furthermore, I would warn that the Roomba couldn’t replace a full size vacuum cleaner. Whilst it is a great solution for some light daily vacuuming, I still need my Dyson for some of the bigger jobs, and for cleaning the stairs.
Wrap-up and conclusion
Overall, I would recommend a Roomba for anyone who, like me, hates to have to clean regularly. It’s an expensive bit of kit, but this is not surprising if you consider all the clever gadgetry stuffed inside, and it certainly makes up for it by the convenience it brings with the ability to schedule cleans.  If you are looking to replace your normal vacuum cleaner, then this probably isn’t for you, but for a secondary cleaning solution to work alongside your normal vacuum cleaner, it is perfect.
For more information on the Roomba series of vacuum cleaners, visit iRobot’s Roomba website.
To look at the selection of Roombas available to buy in the UK, then visit iRobot’s UK online store.

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