iRobot Roomba Discovery 4296

*Update 4/29/2007* In case you’re wondering how the cats are dealing with the Roomba. Maverick just watches it from a distance, preferably from a higher vantage point such as a couch or an ottoman. If the Roomba approaches him when he’s on the ground, he waits until it gets a little too close and then prances out of the way. Phoebe seems to regard the Roomba as her next great conquest. She follows it around looking for weakness. She often will crouch down and when the Roomba is retreating she’ll pounce. So for her this is just another great toy. She follows it around from room to room.

Roomba Discovery 4296.jpgA few days ago I wooted a remanufactured iRobot Roomba Discovery. I’ve had my eye on these robots for a while now. It arrived on Friday and I put it through its paces.

The technology is not perfect yet but it is now impressively close. Its NiMH batteries are MUCH better than the old NiCd ones (as anybody who ever owned an early generation video camera can attest). But not as good as the newer Li-ion batteries in terms of power density and recharge cycles.

I have to say that I’m pretty impressed. It won’t replace the need to do a thorough occasional vacuuming, but it sure looks like it’s going to do a good job at keeping the dust bunnies at bay. This model is schedulable, it will activate itself at some time that you determine (a different time each day if you choose), do its business and then dock itself when it starts to run low on power so that it can recharge. The default cleaning cycle is an hour and the battery in this remanufactured model is quite up to that task.

The description on Amazon indicates that 4 “AA” batteries are required but you really need 2 “AA” batteries (for the remote) and 4 “D” Cells (2 for each of the 2 virtual walls). After the initial charge (they say it will take 16 hours but the unit indicated it was ready to go after only a couple of hours) I manually initiated a “clean” cycle to watch it and see what, if any, problems it would encounter. I used the virtual walls to keep it away from the one area rug that we have out (while in the midst of our renovations) so that the unit would not get tangled up on tassels. This is something I see folks warning about in all the Internet postings that I’ve seen. I let the unit travel across our linoleum laundry room floor, our ceramic tile dining room and kitchen and then down the carpeted (low pile) hallway to the gym. The unit transitions between all of these surfaces surprisingly well.

The only three things that it has issues with are:

  • Area Rugs – as long as the Roomba hits these at some kind of angle (which it eventually will) it can cross the edge of these just fine. If it hits the edge at 90 degrees it will catch the carpet and temporarily jam. The Roomba is very good at figuring this out and shifting itself around to unstick itself. It will even go so far as to turn off its brushes and move away from the problem object if necessary. So this isn’t really an issue per se but it is disconcerting to hear it struggle when it does get caught on the carpet edge.
  • Power cords – I have a power cord for my treadmill that I haven’t yet neatly tucked away yet. It is bunched up and then rises off the floor a couple of inches to disappear into a cord-hider that I have mounted on the gym wall. The Roomba can get itself raised up on the coil of cord and then stuck where the cord rises. I suspect that, if I left it long enough, the unit might even figure its way off of that little trap but I didn’t like watching it struggle and picked it off of the coil after about 45 seconds of struggling. The solution here is simple, I need to just properly stow the cable. It looks bad where it is anyway. Again not a really “normal” issue.
  • Shoelaces – This is a real issue. One of the laces of a pair of shoes that I normally leave on the floor in our laundry room got caught up in the brushes and, for some reason, did not jam them. The Roomba is more than strong enough to drag the shoe around behind it and that’s exactly what it did. New rule – pick up shoes and put them in closet. Ah well…

The unit is about as effective as a good floor sweeper (if you remember those little units from the 20th century). Meaning it does a great job on floors and a good job on carpets. Those bits of yard debris and pet hair are picked up very well. It even picks up a goodly amount of pollen which we, in the South, have in spades in early April. When I inspect the debris bin I see that dust bunnies will rue the day that iRobot invaded the house.

My home is about 2,500 square feet, I think it’s realistic that the Roomba can handle about a third of that. This translates to roughly 3 or 4 rooms. More than that and there simply isn’t enough time in a cleaning cycle for it to cover the area enough to be effective. Depending on how this unit fares, I may consider at least one more unit for another part of my house.

Another thing to note, if you have allergies you may not wish to hang around while the little guy does its job. While it does sport a little filter for the exhaust air it will not be mistaken for a HEPA filter. When I use my Dyson 07, which has such a filter, the air is almost fresh coming out of it. The Roomba cannot make this claim. But this is a minor point – the scheduler means that the unit has done its job and any dust has settled long before I get home from work.

Here’s a link to it on Amazon if you’re interested, the reviews are generally positive. Remanufactured iRobot Roomba Vacuum Cleaning Robot with Scheduler, Case/Color May Vary

Posted under On the Home Front

This post was written by Marc
on April 28, 2007 at 8:02 pm

3,828 views

4 Comments so far

  1. king April 29, 2007 11:18 am

    Congradulations. The shoelace problem has 2 solutions. Zippers (which most of my footware has) and Velcro (which none of mine have, but is available).

    I’ve had my eye on these for some time as well, but unfortunately, every floor of out place, has fringed rugs on top of the carpeting. So until the roomba can ‘see’ fringe, and turn off it’s brushes until it’s over the fringe, there no point of us getting one.

    Now, the outside version for cutting the grass….that we may go for.

    King

  2. Marc April 29, 2007 12:16 pm

    Yeah, there’s no getting around the fringe issue for now. It’s smart enough to *see* a wall to follow along it for cleaning purposes, but discerning “fringe” from “debris” will certainly be a challenge for future models!

  3. David June 5, 2007 11:53 pm

    Hi. Our Discovery seems to have worked most of our fringes out. One of the rugs got a trim from me (after a week of watching the vacuuming being done, “Buzz” was quickly classified as essential household equipment and I will accommodate him rather than vice versa).

    It is forcing us to tidy up a bit more. The Discovery is pretty good at handling rubber bands, plastic bags, underwear, recharger cords, dog leads, important taxation documents & etc but from reading engineer’s comments in the forums having the rotating brushes impeded adds a great deal of strain and accelerated wear on the unit.

    We also had one nasty experience in which a side table with a lamp cord hanging off it was completely pulled over, however in Buzz’ defence he wasn’t to know, the table was obviously a stupid design and he did have a go at cleaning up the mess.

    This technology has now matured to the point that it is useful if not perfect and I encourage anyone with a floor to purchase one.

  4. Marc June 7, 2007 12:19 am

    That’s a good point that I had neglected to mention. Our floors, too, are much clearer of junk as we remain aware that it will just get in the way of our little Roomba. We haven’t gone so far as to christen it with a name yet… hmmm.. must think of a name…

    You’d think with all of the robot smarts these things have, that Buzz would have thought to blame the cat for the mess 🙂

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