We love our robotic vacuum cleaner

Automatic vacuum cleaner - crazy!

Cleaning is usually a touchy subject, and we're all very individual about cleanliness. Some of us are compulsive cleaners, like Monica in Friends. Some of us are complete pigs, but luckily most people are somewhere in the grey area in between.

Strangely we all seem to like it when it actually is clean. I've never come across anyone who's said "This is too clean, I don't like it". Because we are such a bunch of individuals we find it hard to let go of this task to someone else. Even as a kid I found it incredibly annoying when my mom cleaned my room and completely destroyed my - ahem- "filing system". I also know that we clean different things and our personal preference for cleaning is usually not very compatible with anyone else. For example; one might be very metriculous about cleaning the grease off the cooker and the grease from fan above the cooker, whilst other people don't even recognise the fan apart from perhaps the dust on top of it. Another person might spend several minutes making the sink clean and shiny. Point is; we're all different when it comes to cleaning.

This is, I believe, a big part in why a robotic vacuum is such a crazy idea. Because it's a robot, it means that it's automatic, and "surely you can't trust anything automatic", especially when it comes to cleaning. But wait a minute...

You probably already have "robots" in your house

Come to think of it, you probably hand over a lot of your cleaning to robots as it stands. It's highly likely that you don't wash your clothes by hand, in fact you're using a computer programme to do it.

If you have a large family or value your free time you'll probably have a dish washer too - another computer and sort of a "robot".
A robotic vacuum cleaner isn't actually much different than your washing machine or dish washer, apart from that it's roaming around on your floor that is.

In "the old days", I'm fairly sure that there were sceptics about using "those new fangled" washing machines. Surely there were complaints about who they didn't wash well enough, and that they probably wore out your clothes because they were ruthless. The cost of them must have been horriffic compared to a washing board and a piece of soap!
Today I wouldn't even consider washing my clothes in the sink or, lo and behold, a stream in the woods.

The difference between the washing machine, the dish washer and the robotic vacuum and a human being is quite simple; the human being can detect dirt much better than the "robots". The "robots" on the other hand work on determination; they clean for a very long time compared to the human. You wouldn't wash your jeans for 1.5 hour or you wouldn't wash a dining plate for 1 hour, just like you wouldn't hoover the one floor for three hours.
On the other hand the "robots" are so "stupid" that they do clean a clean dining plate for 1 hour! What's worse is that the "robot" has got no idea what to do about your coffee stain on your jeans... it doesn't even know it's there. But hey, it'll wash the jeans for an 90 minutes, the likelyhood that it'll be washing the stain is quite large.
To put it simply; "robots" use determination to get things clean; while humans detect and remove dirt.

Roaming Robot Research Results

Electrolux Trilobite, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The Electrolux Trilobite Robotic Vacuum

When I first got interested in the robotic vacuums I started searching the Net - remember, I was a sceptic too! I quickly figured out that there was basically three options on the market.

  • A smart and sensing top of the line model: The Electrolux Trliobite
  • A fairly good compromise that basically everyone seemed to like: The iRobot Roomba.
  • Some random nameless copies of the Roomba.

(I tried getting to the Trilobite 2.0 site but I couldn't get past the intro.)

Naturally I wasn't interested in any rubbish, so the Roomba-copies didn't get much attention at all. This left me with the Trilobite and the Roomba. The fist thing that saw me fall off the chair was the price of the Trilobite - £999 in most stores. Blimey. I value clenliness, but I do value a thousand quids more. For me to buy the Trilobite, further research would have to prove it really good.
The Roomba comes in at a much more gadgeteer friendly £150 - £300 mark. phew.

What's the difference between them? In short, the Trilobite is a true quality product that scans and maps the room and then proceeds to systematically clean it. While the Roomba is much simpler and probably built to a budget. This means that the electrickery in the Roomba is much more simple and it technically can't map out the room using sensors. I guess it stores information such as how many degrees it has turned and how far it has travelled to get an approximate size of the room(s) it's cleaning. But basically the Roomba just "bumps around" (litterally) in the room till it reckons it's clean enough. And mosty it really is clean enough.

These differences explain the huge price difference. The Trilobite is an acutal robot which knows its environment, but the simpler Roomba is "just" a very eager vacuum that's been let loose with a slightly flexible timer and a few cleaning routines, such as "follow the wall".

Pink, Red, Discovery, Scheduler, Sage, HELP

To make my life harder, I was faced with a multitude of iRobot Roombas. You see, they come in a bunch of features, and this is not mentioning the 1st generation Roombas (recognised by having the buttons att he back, and a very slim front "bumper").
From cheap to expensive, these are the current models:

  • Roomba Red
  • Roomba Pink Ribbon
  • Roomba Sage
  • Roomba Discovery
  • Roomba Discovery SE
  • Roomba Scheduler

When I started my investigation, the "Sage" didn't have a name (but Roomba) and Scheduler wasn't launched. After I had read aaalllll about them it came down to that Sage is probably the one we want. After a quick look today, it looks like Roomba Red has now got the same accessories as Roomba Sage - investigate before you decide!

Some models come with a charging Home Base, charging wall mounts and one or more virtual walls. The Home Base is a charger that emits an infra-red beam so that the Roomba can find the charger. The wall mounts lets you hide (and charge) your Roomba somewhere away from prying eyes. The virtual walls are nifty little things that emit a beam that the Roomba will not cross. Handy when you want to restrict Roomba from entering another area. The top-of-the-range Roomba now comes with a Scheduler that makes your Roomba clean at a set time every day, when you are at work, for example.

We decided, as we have a two floor house, that the Home Base is a bit of a waste as we'd have to carry it upstairs anyway, ditto with the Scheduler. Virtual walls would be nice, but ideally we'd want Roomba to clean one floor at a time. This left us with Roomba Sage, which comes with a normal charger and one virtual wall. Neato Burrito!

Decision has been made, action time.

iRobot Roomba Sage, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

The Roomba Sage.

We needed to find the best price and availability. I scoured Froogle, eBay and a lot of other places. The prices were pretty much the same. On eBay there are a few sold a bit cheaper as they are sent from the U.S. I didn't want a U.S Roomba because potential issues with warranty and obviously the charger plug. Too much hassle.

Surprisingly we ended up choosing Argos for our Roomba! The reasons were quite simple; it's a big chain with tons of local stores. This means we can go back to them if something goes wrong, if I pay £200 for an "unknown quantity", I want that security. Another reason was that the price wasn't actually that much different from the (decent) online prices, and it was certainly cheaper than some. Funnily one of the Dixons-chains just across the car-park were selling the original (lesser) Roomba for the same price as the newer Roomba we got.
We entered Oxford Argos and keyed in the product code, and to my surprise it was in stock. My "flexible friend" does a breif appearance and we're off off home with a brand new Roomba. We plug it in for a good nights charge and anxiously wait till next day.

Lights, Camera, Vacuum

Almost action time; she's all juiced up, let's make the environment a bit Roomba-friendly.

There's a few thing these "dumb" "animals" don't like. Here's a few:

  • Thin cables that can curl up in the brushes.
  • Frills on carpets and such (don't leave your tassled leather jacket on the floor)
  • High tresholds
  • Carpeted stairs that have a very round edge
  • "Almost high enough" furniture

Other than that - Roomba likes the floors. Let's quickly look on what you can do make Roombas working environment a happier place.
Don't have carpets with frills on (they're out of fashion anyway), and tidy up your cables. You should have done that anyway before you even got a roomba. Tidied cables are nice.
Get your thresholds either lowered or get a ramp, or let Roomba clean on one side first, and then the other side.
On our stairs we've put a piece of wood across that prevents Roomba from falling down. If the stairs would have a sharper edge then Roomba can sense the drop early enough and won't fall down. Neat.
If you have furniture that's "almost high enough" it means that Roomba can usually get in under the furniture, but for some reason she can't get out. This one can be quite easy to fix; put some pads under your chest of drawers etc, to add 5mm or so more space underneath. In the future you'll probably end up buying Roomba-friendly furniture. Just accept that you've become a cleaning-gadget-geek. I'll write more about what we've done to our house in another article.

The manual also recommends you to watch the Roomba the first times it "does its business" to see how it behaves and where it might get stuck. This is what we did!

To vacuum all you have to do is place the Roomba in the middle of the floor and she'll start going in a circles, larger and larger. This ensures that the majority of the middle of the floor is cleaned. When she hits an obstacle she'll start following the walls, occasionally doing a "Crazy Ivan" (see "The Hunt for Red October"); turning around in a random direction.
The Robot is capable of following walls and vacuuming around table legs etc. She's got a tiny side-brush that makes her reach all the way out to the wall she's following.
After a while, depending on level of dirt, floor type and size of the room, she's done. This she announces with a happy tune. At this point you need to go" Roomba hunting" as she might be hiding anywhere. Typically in the most awkward places.

Roomba vs Pepper The Cat

To put Roomba through the baptism of fire we took Roomba to the house that Pepper the Cat owns. Pepper has been living here for a very long time, but at the same time the house has been cleaned most nights. Interesting.
We chose a fully carpeted room, not too big, not too small, and let Roomba loose. She was cleaning for a very long time, and we decided after a while that we should turn her off.

I opened the particle container (i.e rubbish bin) and to my astonishment it was completely full with cat hair. And I mean completely!
I decied to clean the brushes too, which were completely fluffy by cat hair too. After a good while of cleaning I decided to "run her quickly". I went back to the room, and stuck her on the floor and started her up... only to let her do the pirouette maneouver and then I turned her off. Back to the kitchen to check the damage; again completely full with cat hair. Amazing!

Another thing you want to note if you're a pet owner; Pepper really doesn't like the normal vacuum cleaners. In fact she runs out of the house hissing at it. Because Roombas vacuuming engine is so close to the actual source of the dirt, Roomba doesn't need a big powerful engine, and thus Roomba is very quiet. You can easily have a conversation in the same room as Roomba.
With Roomba's low noise level, Pepper didn't mind. On the contrary, that thing that was bobbing around on the floors was quite interesting to watch. Pepper liked Roomba, and Roomba certainly cleaned Peppers hair. Impressive!

Pepper the Cat, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Pepper the Cat

MexiCAN and MexiCAN'T

iRobot Roomba vacuuming under the furniture, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here's Roomba vacuuming under our chest of drawers. Notice the white pads to make sure Roomba can roam free underneath.

Roomba vacuuming under the furniture, Click here to view larger image (NaNkb)

Here's Roomba under the furniture again. Making sure she gets all the dirt, even in places I'd give up. Notice the extremely Roomba-friendly furniture.

Righto - Roomba doesn't do everything, but quite a lot. Let's see exactly what you can expect from Roomba.

  • She won't reach fully into the corners with the under-chassi brushes. This means you might have to manually clean the corners from time to time.
  • If you have say a sofa with a floor light and a side table next to the sofa you'll have tons of legs for Roomba to bump into. This means that you've created "more corners" and increased the area that Roomba won't reach.
  • Roomba will not vacuum your stairs. Unfortunately.
  • She will chew your cables if you leave them out, so don't.

On the other hand, unlike your "manual" vacuum cleaner, Roomba can and will do the following things:

  • Happily clean under your furniture; sofas, TV-bench, chest of drawers, beds, anything she can crawl under. This means that more of your floor surface will be cleaned.
  • Clean as often as you like; all you have to do is empty the particle bin, check the brushes, and put her on charge.
  • Repeatedly clean with the same determination. Forget about that "quick once over".

Thanks to that Roomba cleans for so long, on such a large area of your floor and because it doesn't use a powerful vacuum motor, the amount of dust in the air will be much less than with "conventional" cleaning. Nice!


As you probaly can tell we really like the Roomba. Not only does she clean for us, but she does it when we're at work. She's also so quiet that I can vacuum one room and spend time in the next room.
Once in a while I need to take our "old" upright vacuum cleaner out and clean the edges of the carpets, the stairs, some corners, between the floor boards, and a few other places where Roomba can't reach. But other than that Roomba does all our vacuuming these days.

Any problems? Unfortunately yes, something went wrong in the electronics and she wouldn't stop without taking the battery out. We tried to let her calm down, but there was nothing we could do.
We left for Argos not knowing what was going to happen to her, but upon arrival we managed to display the same behaviour and she was taken back without any problems and before we had handed the box over someone else from the staff was already fetching a new one for us. Top service from Argos, and it goes to show that "eTailers" still are missing something that a normal shop has got. Our new Roomba has been working without a single flaw ever since.

All in all I see Roomba as a bit of a peacekeeper; I have a lower threshold for cleaning that Caz has, but I don't mind vacuuming using Roomba so I'm quite happy to tidy up a bit and put Roomba to work.

We are very happy with our Roomba and are considering a Scooba.