Here at Gadget Man we are always on the look out for something different, this has taken down the road of reviewing electric bikes, smart watches, flying drones and the like. This week however we have been blown away by a completely different type of gadget. In fact calling it a gadget is probably not enough. This is a proper, functional robotic household appliance, this is the iRobot Roomba 880.Vacuuming your house or office is one of those jobs that can take a serious amount of time. That is if you want to do it properly, cleaning right up to the skirting boards, under the bed or chairs and making multiple passes if parts of the carpet are particularly dirty. Just thinking about it fills me with dread, it’s so time consuming to do it properly and I’m going to have to get down on my hands and knees.
Well, not anymore I won’t (well at least for a little while). At the end of last week, we took delivery of a smallish unassuming box from iRobot, a globally recognised domestic, commercial, industrial and military robot manufacturer. Inside the box is the Roomba 880 vacuum cleaner, a powered dock, a remote control and 2 virtual wall or lighthouses (depending on which mode you want them to operate in). After removing some shipping material (much like you would when changing toner on a photocopier), you sit the Roomba on the floor, plugged in the wall dock/charger and pressed the green ‘Clean’ button on the top of the newly acquired domestic robot.
Prior to Roomba doing something it will play a short tune; this depends on what job you are asking it to do or what it intends to do next. By pressing the clean button, you are asking the robot to do a standard vacuum clean. This means it will transverse the entire surface of your floor (the areas that are not blocked by doors, stairs or virtual walls) and proceed to start to clean. Initially this clean usually begins with a short spiralling pattern for a few rotations, followed by the robot making for the nearest wall or object, upon reaching this it will attempt to navigate along the wall, the spinning brush knocking any debris into its path ready to be picked up. The Roomba 880 has several means to clean your carpet or floor (bear in mind it will adapt to any surface), the first is a spinning brush which spins to knock debris away from edge surfaces, the second are two rotating rubber rollers which act as traditional brushes would on a standard vacuum cleaner (but in my opinion much much more effectively), the third is an accelerated suction system which very nicely pulls the debris into the collection cartridge.
As mentioned before, the debris is collected in a removable cartridge which slots into the side of Roomba. Upon first inspection, the collection cartridge appears quite small as it also houses the filter. However after regular use of the cleaner, you soon realise that if used on a daily basis, the collection cartridge rarely gets anywhere near full. When it does, it flashes a red warning light on the top of the robot, letting you know it is time to empty it. Be prepared to do this three of four times on its first clean, as I can tell you it is VERY effective at cleaning. My office has never has such a clean floor! Regular cleaning doesn’t need to be an issue, as programming to Roomba to clean at specific times of specific days is very simple to set up using the SCHEDULE button. The system works best without clutter on the floors, so we picked up beanbags and the like and popped them on the sofa.
How many times do you get on your hands and knees and clean under your beds or furniture? Dust always seems to gather under beds and furniture doesn’t it? Well, Roomba can clean under furniture as long as you have 4 in / 10 cm clearance and will get through gaps wider than 14 in / 36 cm, so getting under chairs isn’t a problem too. If you have cables lying across the floor, Roomba is meant to be able to detect this and takes action to stop them getting caught up in its mechanism. In this day and age of a connected world, I bet you are always going to find a phone charger lying around somewhere. Roomba is also very efficient at picking up pet hairs, but how does it fair with pets? Well, we have a pretty excitable Jack Russell, who hates hairdryers and vacuum cleaners. But surprisingly, he wasn’t at all bothered with the robot, simply ignoring it or leaving the room.
You can block off doorways using the Virtual Wall device, I received two of these with my Roomba, but you would need to check when you purchase how many you receive. These devices can also act as ‘light houses’, which tell Roomba to stay cleaning a room before leaving it and moving on to the next, it also tells Roomba how to get back to the charger. I found that generally the robot can find its own way back to its base, but in a larger house it would certainly be useful to conserve the cleaners’ battery. The only thing the Roomba 880 won’t do is climb the stairs, so you will still need to do this job yourself for now, but a short search on You Tube found this little video of an iRobot climbing the stairs, so I should imagine we will have to wait long for this development to come. However, the Roomba has lots of sensors to stop it falling down the stairs or ‘cliffs’, so there are no worries there.
It’s not often that you find a ‘new way’ of doing something such as vacuuming floors that actually improve upon the aged old functions of traditional devices. With the iRobot Roomba, this rule is most certainly broken as the robot does a far superior job to a traditional hoover, partly by the thorough job it does and partly because it is prepared to do this most tedious of jobs as often as you see fit. I would gauge the usefulness of any product based on my wife Vanessa’s point of view, she is very good at filtering out the ‘geeky’ side of things and seeing the true value of something. She says she will really miss having the Roomba in the house as it has proven amazing at taking away the constant need to vacuum up after our pre-school twins James and Grace. Based on this alone we have to give it massive ‘thumbs up’.
I would personally like to thank Bo Simonsen,
Market Manager UK & Ireland for WITT who were very kind in supplying us with the Roomba 880