The truth is, I’m not new to robots. I was introduced to early functional robots in the early nineties, consulted for a few products over the years, including Keecker’s Smart Connected Robot and Willow Garage, whose PR2 robot can not only fetch a beer and knows how to dance as well. And, this and last year’s CES demoed a ton of robots, for a myriad of things ranging from helping the handicapped and flying drones to more functional uses like cleaning your house. Ahhh yes, what woman doesn’t love a little help to get a sparkling clean house?
Having grown up with a conventional oh so English grandmother, we used to get on our hands and knees and scrub floors before guests would arrive — a mop simply wasn’t enough for some reason! Today, I have less time than ever to clean the house, especially with so much travel on the schedule. Just because I love to travel and travel often, it doesn’t mean I don’t want my house to be dust free — in fact, I’d argue that a product like iRobot’s Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot (above) is a godsend for travelers because of the time saving factor alone. To simply say that it’s a great productivity tool is an understatement.
Aside from all of its useful features and benefits, imagine having a robot clean your floors for you while you’re packing for your next trip? Or, getting the kid’s breakfast ready before school? Or, while you’re on the couch watching a movie you’ve been dying to see?
The Roomba 980 by iRobot does just that — this small circular device buzzes around the house and gets rid of unwanted dust, dirt and particles quickly and seamlessly. Roomba 980 is the first Roomba to combine adaptive navigation with visual localization, cloud connected app control, and increased cleaning power on carpets.This godsend of a robot started out as an it and after an hour or so, “it” suddenly felt like a “he” and so we named him Rocky. The funny thing about robots is that they can seem insanely human at times despite the fact that they’re made up of plastic and metal parts. The built in intelligence that you see when the robot starts performing its designated duties is astonishing at times.
Rocky, our Roomba pal, has now become part of the family. He has intelligent visual navigation, app control and WiFi connectivity and the newer 980 model which we tested, cleans an entire level of a home. We started by placing him in one room just to see what he would do and there’s no doubt about it, he’s a ton of fun to watch. At first, he bumped up against a few objects in the room (it was the smallest room in the house), including a futon’s legs, and spun around a few times bumping into other sides of the same object. It was almost as if Rocky was learning the room, and then assessing what to do next.
After a little more assessment and soft bumps, none of which hurts the furniture btw, he figured out the direction to move and how far — once he did that, he made several passes up and down the room until he bumped into something else new, then reassessed and figured it out again. Roomba will do one or two pass cleaning, although the default is one pass. When two pass cleaning is turned on, Roomba will complete its first pass, turn in a 90 degree angle and begin a second pass. This is also fun to watch.
In other words, this device that looks like a round spaceship with wheels, is incredibly smart. While at first, he’ll bump into objects he doesn’t recognize, he figures out what to do and where to go very quickly — there’s no need to help him out as much as you’re inclination is to do so.
The Roomba combines adaptive navigation with visual localization for up to two hours, recharging and resuming as needed until it cleans an entire level of a home. I didn’t trust that he would move to a new room on his own, so I lifted him up and placed him next in the living room while he did a little cleaning there, which is the largest room of the house. At some juncture, I heard a beep and saw a red light over the trash can icon, so realized that the container that collects the dirt needed emptying, a two minute easy process.
There’s a short and simple manual to read through however most of what you need to know is self explanatory and intuitive. After cleaning it out, I turned Rocky on again and let him go, this time guiding him towards the bedroom. We have hardwood floors in the bedroom but a very fluffy Alpaca rug (not the image shown below), which is not advised with a Roomba cleaner, so I simply picked up the rug and directed Rocky towards the bed and off he went. He is incredibly low at only 3.6 inches tall, so he can easily navigate his way under objects we don’t normally get to, like beds and couches.
There was quite a bit of dust under the bed and at first, I felt that I had to watch or steer him or somehow be in “charge” for part of the process or he wouldn’t have captured all the dust. And so, I watched and grew frustrated when he didn’t go straight for the dust right away, until I quickly realized that he was assessing the floor once again. He was as smart as he was in the previous room; after bumping into the supports that help hold the bed up, he figured out where the main areas of concentrated dirt and dust were and tackled the entire area, all without my interference. I was astonished at just how clever he was and despite my uncertainty at first that he would clean the entire room, he did so. Soon, I found myself trusting Rocky to clean the room without supervision, which is a godsend when you have a lot of things to do around the house, like laundry and packing for that next fabulous trip.
Roomba 980 features a low profile design to clean under furniture and kickboards and its Dirt Detect feature uses optical and acoustic sensors to detect high concentrations of dirt and debris. Dirt Detect makes sure the robot performs concentrated cleaning in the areas where it’s needed most.
Trusting that your Roomba will eventually get to your biggest areas of concern is part of the learning process. It’s natural to want to try to help him as he navigates its way, just in the same way you’d want to help a child who stumbles when they walk from a hardwood floor to a raised carpet. The built in AeroForce Cleaning System with Carpet Boost detects carpeted floors and provides twice the cleaning performance where it’s needed most. Rocky raised himself as he hit a throw rug and readjusted his settings to handle the carpet and did the same thing again when he reached the end of it and made his way back onto a bare hardwood floor. The Gen 3 motor automatically boosts its performance on carpet and rugs so you don’t have to think about it. Roomba reduces its vacuum power to decrease battery consumption when he moves back into hard surfaces.
If tackling under beds and couches isn’t enough to get you excited, how about areas in the kitchen you hate to clean most or are hard to get to? Yup, those wall edges, especially below the cooking area and the sink, where food particles tend to drop more often, particularly if you have kids. The Roomba 980 has a feature called EDGE Clean (the default is on), which ensures that it thoroughly cleans along the walls and around furniture legs. We LOVE this feature!! And, Rocky performed flawlessly – we watched him studiously in several rooms before letting him play (and clean) on his own.
The Roomba also features brushless, dual counter‐rotating debris extractors that grab dirt from any floor type while reducing hair tangles and brush maintenance, which is incredibly useful in the kitchen and bathroom, especially if you have pets. They have a feature called Dual Mode Virtual Wall which offers a “Halo Mode” for keeping Roomba away from things like pet bowls, vases and cords. In our testing, we didn’t find this to be an issue and I have plenty of vases and bowls on the floors throughout the house.
Roomba 980 Cleans an Entire Level of a Home Not Just a Room
It’s important to note that the 980 model cleans an entire level of a home, not just a room, which some of the older and less pricey models do. By combining iRobot’s iAdapt Responsive Cleaning Technology with new sensors, the 980 independently cleans an entire floor level by using a proprietary visual simultaneous localization and mapping (vSLAM) technology, which is an industry first for a consumer product. Their groundbreaking technology is part of iRobot’s new iAdapt 2.0 Navigation with Visual Localization, which allows Roomba 980 to build a map of its environment as it cleans, keeping track of its location until it has cleaned an entire level. Using the map, Roomba 980 will run continuously for up to two hours, then automatically return to its Home Base to recharge and resume until the cleaning is done. How cool is that?
Roomba 980 will clean efficiently in open areas by moving in parallel lines while also taking advantage of the robot’s suite of sensors to adapt its pattern when necessary, seamlessly navigating under furniture and around clutter. This, btw, is precisely what we saw in action when Rocky began his dust eating exercise under the bed.
Mobile Support: iRobot HOME App
iRobot’s HOME App allows you to connect Roomba 980 to your Wi-Fi network, so when cleaning schedules don’t match social or work schedules, you can start a cleaning job from anywhere, anytime. This was one of the nifty features that we thought would be great for mobile warriors and avid travelers who are constantly on the go.
Roomba 980 can also be scheduled to clean up to seven times a week from the familiar Smartphone interface. Available for Android and iOS devices, you can also choose between one or two passes, edge cleaning and whether to use Carpet Boost behavior. The HOME App also provides information about cleaning status, customized tips and direct access to customer support. You can also set it up to run on either performance mode or eco-mode, depending on your preference. In other words, it’s incredibly comprehensive and useful if you have a busy schedule.
The Roomba 980 vacuum cleaning robot is available in the U.S., Canada, Japan and select European countries for around $899 on www.irobot.com. It comes with a home base, two dual mode virtual wall batteries, an extra filter and an extra side brush. We can’t recommend it highly enough – two thumbs up!