Robotic Vacuums - An Overview


In the 1950’s the house of the future was portrayed as having all sorts of “space-age” gadgets.  While many of these concepts never reached fruition (50+ years later…), we are beginning to see some of these concepts emerge.  The idea of robotic domestic help is beginning with items such as the now very popular robotic vacuum...

What is a robotic vacuum cleaner? 

The robotic vacuum cleaner is typically a small, often disc shaped, battery operated vacuum that scours the floor vacuuming up dirt, hair, lint and the like using some computer means of navigation.  The robotic vacuum uses rechargeable battery operated power – these batteries can be recharged by plugging into a power outlet in the home.  Running time between charges is about 40 minutes to 2 hours depending on the vacuum.  Some of these vacuums have the ability to recharge on the fly – by heading back to a “home base” or docking station. 

Not all robotic vacuums come with a docking station but some do.  Consumers have pointed out that a docking station is also helpful in finding the unit after it has competed its job.  Without the docking station the vacuum stops when and where it has finished vacuuming – unfortunately this can often be in places where it is hard to find or retrieve (like under furniture).

It is typical for a robotic vacuum to take several times as long to clean an area than a conventional vacuum – due in part the speed and movement of the unit (they also sometimes cover the same area multiple times).  Movement of these devices is somewhat chaotic, changing direction when encountering an obstacle (bump-and-go concept).  Some models can map an area and keep track of where they have been thereby minimizing redundancy.  Other models use simple algorithms to cover an area – such as “wall following” or “angle changing” after bumping into an object. 

Most of the new robotic vacuums can be programmed to go about their work at any time – using a built in scheduler that the user sets.  This allows the vacuum to go about its business when you are at work (or play).  However it is key that rooms be prepared before the vacuum is left to it’s own devices.  This means getting wires, couch fringes, loose carpets, drapery hems, blind pull cords, newspapers, small toys, etc out of the way.  Also some furniture re-arrangement may be in order.  Consumers report that the robotic vacuums are best for cleaning hardwood floors and low-pile carpet (although admittedly they will still not do as good a job as the older more traditional human powered vacuum cleaners).  They are not good at cleaning deep-pile carpet. 
Maintenance obviously varies from model to model but in general seems to be pretty straightforward - empty bin, remove any brush clogging debris, replace brushes and filter when necessary.  The most common complaints are that the units need to be cleaned and recharged often.  

 - easy to maintain
 - good at picking up all sorts of dust and hair
 - can be scheduled to work while you are busy doing something else

 - require frequent cleaning
 - require frequent recharging
 - wiring, loose threads, etc, on the floor can snag on the brushes of the vacuum cleaner
 - can get banged-up/scratched because finds objects by bumping into them (most units)
 - only effectively does one room at a time
 - takes longer than a traditional vacuum
 - doesn’t do as good a job as a traditional vacuum

Prices for robotic vacuums range from around 50 USD to upwards of 2000USD.  There are many different manufacturers at this time with a plethora of models.   Probably the most popular robotic vacuum at present is the Roomba by the iRobot Corporation.  IRobot make all manner of robotic domestic helpers including “Scooba”, a robot that washes floors, “Looj” for cleaning gutters and “Verro”, a robot for cleaning swimming pools.

The concept of having an automated means of dealing with the drudgery of vacuuming is all too enticing for many consumers and the robotic vacuum, while not yet perfect, fits the bill.  Is this just a fad?  Unlikely.  The robotic vacuum does not yet do a perfect job and, yes, a traditional vacuum is faster and more thorough, but the robotic units are getting better each year and this is no longer simply an amusing device. 



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About Me


I'm Nigel Russco, a 50 year old professional engineer who loves to review vacuums, and I’ve been doing just that since 2008.  

I strive to write unbiased, intelligent vacuum cleaner reviews and I provide a score for each and every vacuum I investigate.  My goal is to help you find the best vacuum for your cleaning needs.

Also, watch my video reviews on the Vacuum Cleaner Advisor YouTube Channel.