The Roomba was introduced in 2002. As of February 2011, iRobot claims that over 6 million units have been sold. Part of the success of the Roomba is that it can be easily adapted to perform other robotic tasks when extended with an embedded computer connected to the Roomba Open Interface.
The Roomba features a set of basic sensors that allow it to prevent itself from falling down stairs, change its direction when it bumps into an obstacle, and detect exceptionally dirty spots on the floor. It has two motorized wheels that can operate independently from each other. The Roomba uses the wheels to move forward and turn around its own axis to go in another direction.
A selection of Roomba internal partsAll Roomba models are disc-shaped, 34 cm (13") in diameter and less than 9 cm (3.5") high. A large contact-sensing mechanical bumper is mounted on the front half of the unit, with an omnidirectional infrared sensor at its top front center. A recessed carrying handle is fitted on the top of most units.
As of 2012, there have been three generations of Roomba units: the first-generation original models, the second-generation "Discovery" series; and the newest third-generation 500 /600 /700 Series.
All versions of the Roomba utilize a pair of brushes, rotating in opposite directions, to pick up debris from the floor. In most models, the brushes are then followed by a squeegee vacuum, by which the airflow is directed through a narrow slit to increase its velocity, in order to collect fine dust. A horizontally-mounted "side spinner" brush on the right side of the unit sweeps against walls to reach debris not accessible by the main brushes and vacuum. In the first generation of robots, the dirty air passes through the fan before reaching the filter, while later models use a fan-bypass vacuum.
The Roomba operates with removable nickel-metal hydride batteries (NiMH), which must be recharged regularly from a wall power adaptor. Newer second- and third-generation models have a self-charging homebase which they automatically try to find (via its infrared beacons). Charging on the homebase takes about three hours. All second- and most third-generation Roombas can be used with the homebase, even if they did not come packaged with it. First- and early second-generation models came packaged with a 12-hour "standard" charger, although an optional 2.7-hour Rapid Charger was sold by iRobot to charge battery packs externally from the robot. Third-generation Roombas use internal batteries not intended to be routinely swapped (a screwdriver must be used to remove the bottom plate to gain access to the battery).
Four infrared "cliff sensors" on the bottom of the Roomba's bumper prevent it from falling off ledges such as the top steps of stairways. Most second- and third-generation models have internal acoustic-based dirt sensors that allow them to detect particularly dirty spots (zones having excess particulates) and focus on those areas accordingly. Many second- and third -generation Roombas come packaged with IR (infrared) remote controls, allowing a human operator to "drive" the robot to areas to be specially cleaned.
Some higher-end 500 and 700 series robots are compatible with "Virtual Wall Lighthouses", using an internal radio-frequency transmitter/receiver to communicate. These more-advanced Virtual Wall accessories have a mode of operation that confines a Roomba to a fixed area to be cleaned, but later allows the cleaner to proceed to the next space to be cleaned.
iRobot has released several types of dust and debris collection bins for the 500 Series robots. The standard "Vacuum Bin" incorporates the separate squeegee vacuum, as with all prior models. The "High Capacity Sweeper Bin" does not include a vacuum, but has greater capacity for debris collected by the brushes. The "Aerovac Bin" directs suction airflow through the main brushes instead of using a squeegee.
Long exposure photo showing path taken by a Roomba as it cleans.All Roomba models can be operated by manually carrying them to the room to be cleaned, and pressing the appropriate button. First-generation models needed to be told the size of the room via three room size buttons (Small, Medium, and Large), but this is no longer required with later models, which automatically estimate room size and adjust cleaning time accordingly.
Second- or third-generation Roombas introduced several new operating modes. "Clean" mode is the normal cleaning program, starting in a spiral and then following a wall, until the room is determined to be clean. "Spot" mode cleans a small area, using an outwards spiral pattern, followed by an inwards spiral. "Max" runs the standard cleaning algorithm until the battery is depleted. "Dock" mode, introduced with the third generation, instructs the robot to seek a self-charging Home Base, and then to recharge itself. The availability of the modes varies depending on model, generally with higher-end units having more features.
The robot's bumper detects bumping into walls and furniture, and reverses or changes its path. The third-generation Roomba, which moves faster than previous Roombas, has additional forward-looking infrared sensors (not to be confused with FLIR) in its bumper to detect obstacles. The robot then slows down when nearing obstacles to reduce its force of impact.
A second-generation Roomba may also be used with the external Scheduler accessory. It allows the Roomba to begin cleaning automatically at the time of day and on days of the week that the owner desires. This can be useful for people who want the Roomba to clean while they are away from the space to be cleaned, or in the middle of the night. Most 500 Series robots support scheduling through buttons on the unit itself, and higher-end models allow the use of a radio-frequency remote to program schedules.
The Virtual Wall accessories project infrared light beams which the Roomba will not cross. Newer model Scheduler Virtual Walls can be set up to turn on via a special radio signal at the same time a Scheduler-enabled Roomba is activated. This is desirable since the Virtual Walls are battery-powered, to avoid wasting power projecting IR beams when they are not needed.
After a sufficient period of time cleaning, the Roomba will stop and sing a few triumphant notes. The cleaning time depends on room size and, for newer models equipped with acoustic dirt sensors, volume of dirt. First-generation models must be told the room size, while second- and third-generation models estimate room size by measuring the longest straight-line run they can perform without bumping into an object. When finished cleaning, or when the battery is nearly depleted, a second- or third-generation Roomba will try to return to a Home Base if one is detected. While docked with the Home Base, a Roomba will charge its battery.
With the exception of the first-generation Roomba, an infrared remote control can also be used to control the unit, which is useful for a disabled person, or for manually directing the device to specific areas to be cleaned.
Unlike the Electrolux Trilobite vacuuming robots, Roombas do not map out the rooms they are cleaning. Instead, they rely on a few simple algorithms such as spiral cleaning (spiraling), room crossing, wall-following and random walk angle-changing after bumping into an object or wall. This design is based on MIT researcher and iRobot CTO Rodney Brooks' philosophy that robots should be like insects, equipped with simple control mechanisms tuned to their environments. The result is that although Roombas are effective at cleaning rooms, they take several times as long to do the job as a person would. The Roomba may cover some areas many times, and other areas only once or twice.
General maintenance of the Roomba consists of emptying the debris bin and cleaning the dust filter, as well as removing and cleaning the brushes. Excessive hair accumulation in the brush system can cause the brushes to stall, or overheat the brush motor, damaging the unit.
The Roomba is not designed for deep-pile carpet. The first- and second-generation Roombas would get stuck on rug tassels (though they could be tucked under before operating a Roomba) and electrical cords. The third generation is able to reverse its brushes to escape entangled cords and tassels. Roombas are designed to be low enough to go under a bed or other furniture. If at any time the unit senses that it has become stuck, no longer senses the floor beneath it, or it decides that it has worked its way into a narrow area from which it is unable to escape, it stops and sounds an error to help its owner find it.
Battery life and reliability
Battery reliability is a frequently-mentioned complaint on the iRobot, Amazon, and other third-party customer review websites. Battery failure may occur within the first year or two of ownership, and positive owner reviews contrast markedly with some strongly negative reviews based on early or repeated battery failure. Battery replacements from iRobot cost a significant fraction of the purchase price of a new Roomba, though compatible third-party batteries are available at a lower price.
Problems with battery longevity are not unique to the Roomba; the cordless power tool and electric vehicle industries also must contend with this issue. The iRobot customer support website offers advice on maximizing battery performance and longevity.Even if properly cared for, a battery will gradually lose its energy capacity, resulting in shorter cleaning runs, and eventually requiring replacement. Battery performance continues to improve in newer models and some replacement packs, but Roomba owners must consider periodic battery replacement as part of the continuing cost of ownership.
When a Roomba owner is absent for an extended period (such as a vacation or due to illness), automatically scheduled cleaning runs should be canceled, as described in the owner's manual or online help website. Otherwise, if a Roomba becomes entangled or "lost" on an unattended cleaning expedition, the battery will remain deeply discharged for an extended period, often resulting in permanent damage to the battery. An alternative expedient measure is to place the Roomba upside-down. In this position, the Roomba will continue to attempt automatic cleaning runs, but will quickly detect that it is not getting anywhere, and give up without exhausting the battery. The charging adaptor cable should be plugged directly into the charger jack on the Roomba, to keep the battery fully charged during this hiatus period.
Introduced in 2002, the first-generation Roomba had three buttons for room size. The first-generation units comprise the original, silver-colored Roomba, the blue Roomba Pro, and the maroon Roomba Pro Elite. The latter two models included additional accessories, but all three use the same overall core robot and cleaning system.
The second-generation Roombas (dubbed "Discovery", later called "400 series") replaced their predecessors in July 2004, adding a larger dust bin, better software that calculates room sizes, dirt detection, and fast charging in the home base (or wall hanger, for the Discovery SE). All second-generation Roombas are functionally identical, though some have more or fewer buttons, accessories, or different external designs. Version "2.1" contained updated software and a new front wheel. Version "2.1" was issued in 2005, and the update was made available to existing units as well. The low-end models continued to be available after the introduction of the 500-series with new, three-digit model names.
Roomba budget models (Dirt Dog and Model 401) have a simplified interface (a single "Clean" button) and lack some of the software-controlled flexibility of other versions. They are positioned to be less-expensive versions of the Roomba for first-time purchasers. The Roomba Dirt Dog contains sweeping brushes and a larger dust bin, but lacks the vacuum motor. It uses the space that would be required for the vacuum for additional dust bin volume. It was designed for home shop or home garage environments.The Roomba Model 401 is similar but has a "standard" size dust bin and vacuum system. The budget models are upwards-compatible with the extended-life batteries, fast charger and schedulers of the 400 series.
The third-generation 500 series Roomba was first introduced in August 2007,and features a forward-looking infrared sensor to detect obstacles and reduce speed, a "Dock" button, and improved mechanical components.It also introduced customizable decorative face plates. The Roomba 530 came with two Virtual Walls and a recharging dock. The 500-series/3rd gen. worked more smoothly than the previous models.
In January 2011, iRobot announced the Roomba 700 Series robots. Although largely similar to the 500 series, the 700 series features a number of improvements. Among others it can offer a more robust cleaning system, improved AeroVac bin with HEPA filter and improved battery life.
Like the 500 series, the 700 series includes robots with different technologies and accessories. The Roomba 760 is the simplest of the robots with no scheduling possibilities and no accessories, and Roomba 790 is the newest and most advanced with both scheduling and a large range of accessories including Lighthouses, Wireless Command Center and extra brushes and filters. Besides these two models, also Roomba 770 and 780 are available – both models with scheduling, DirtDetect 2 and Full bin indicator.
The updated robotic vacuum started shipping in May 2011.
List of models
The first generation:
- Roomba (2002, improved in 2003, discontinued)
- Roomba Pro (2003, discontinued)
- Roomba Pro Elite, model # 3100, (2003, discontinued)
The first-generation Roombas have three buttons for room size.
Roomba Discovery (second-generation) This EU Roomba is similar to the second-generation US Roomba Sage.The second-generation Roombas (dubbed "Discovery", later called 400 series) replaced their predecessors in July 2004, adding a larger dust bin, better software that calculates room sizes, fast charging in the home base (or wall hanger in the Discovery SE), and dirt detection. All second-generation Roombas are functionally identical, though some have more or fewer buttons, accessories, or casings, and all featured updated programming after mid 2005. The low-end models continued to be available into 2007 with new model names.
- Second Generation (2G) (All 2G Roombas can be updated to 2.1G Roombas)
- Dirt Dog, model # 1100 (sweeper only, no vacuum)
- Roomba, model # 4000, now model # 400 (2006) (September 2006)
- Roomba Red, model # 4100, now model # 410 (2004, improved to 2.1G in 2005)
- Roomba Sage, model # 4105, now model # 416 (2004, improved to 2.1G in 2005)
- Roomba Sage, model # 4110, now model # 416 (identical to # 4105, but includes charging base)
- Roomba Clean Blue, model # 4130, (HSN exclusive model, earliest release of 2.1G Roomba at a special preview price, identical to the 2.1G Sage except for color.(2004, discontinued)
- Roomba Clean Blue, model # 4130, (HSN exclusive model, earliest release of 2.1G Roomba at a special preview price, identical to the 2.1G Discovery except for color) (2004, discontinued)(Although confusing it should be noted both HSN models share the same model number (4130) despite being two very different models.)
- Roomba Silver, model # 4150, (Amazon.com & Target exclusive model, identical to # 4105, except for a special silver finish)
- Roomba Sage for Pets, model # 4170 (2006)
- Roomba Pink Ribbon Edition, model # 4188, (Identical to # 4105 except for color with 20% of the sale price was donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation) (2005, discontinued)
- Roomba Discovery, model # 4210, (2004, improved to 2.1G in 2005)
- Roomba Discovery SE, model # 4220, (2004, identical to Discovery 4210 but with different paint and self-charging wall mount; improved to 2.1G in 2005, discontinued)
- Roomba Scheduler, model # 4225, (same as 4230, but sold at Costco)
- Roomba Scheduler, model # 4230, (2005)
- Roomba Scheduler, model # 4260, with Intelli-Bin (auto detection of a full refuse bin) (Sold at Hammacher-Schlemmer)
- Roomba Discovery for Pets (2006)
- Roomba Scheduler with Intelli-Bin (July 2006)
Roomba 560 docked in base stationiRobot 500 series or third Generation (according to the Official iRobot Website). The third-generation 5xx Roomba was introduced in 2007 and features an infrared sensor to detect obstacles, a dock button, and improved mechanical components. Some second-generation models remain on sale, however, as the 4xx series for awhile. The 500 series had double the cleaning capacity of the last generation. The base of all Roomba 500 series models are the same, they only differ in some features (handle, scheduling, bin type) and included accessories. iRobot has sold the same robots with different model numbers in each regions, and created some unique bundles for some regions. Roomba models 535 and up are compatible with scheduling and with the wireless command centre, whereas Roomba models 550 and up include on-board scheduling.
- Roomba 510
- Roomba 530
- Roomba 532 (similar to a 530, with enhanced components for pets)
- Roomba 535 (HSN Version)
- Roomba 550 (Costco Version, 540 Costco Canada Version)
- Roomba 560
- Roomba 562/564 (like a 560, with enhanced components for pets)
- Roomba 570/571
- Roomba 572 (like a 570, with enhanced components for pets, 572 Costco Canada Version)
- Roomba 580/581 (580 released in August 2007)
- Roomba 610 (Roomba PRO)
iRobot Roomba 780In 2011, three new improved models (all come with the new AeroVac series 2 bin):
- Roomba 760 - no full bin indicator, original Dirt Detect sensor, button interface, one virtual wall, no lighthouse feature
- Roomba 770 - full bin indicator, Dirt Detect 2 sensors, button interface, two virtual walls, no lighthouse feature
- Roomba 780 - full bin indicator, Dirt Detect 2 sensors, touch sensitive interface, two virtual walls / lighthouses, set of spare filters and brushes
- Roomba 790 - full bin indicator, Dirt Detect 2 sensors, touch sensitive interface, two virtual walls / lighthouses, set of spare filters and brushes, wireless command centre.
iRobot sells the 700 series models with the same model numbers in all regions.
- Easy Clean Brush — A brush that is designed specifically for cleaning pet hair, being easier to clean off (standard on models designated "for pets").
- Remote Control — Allows the owner to remotely operate basic Roomba functions (works with all second- and third-generation Roombas).
- Wireless Command Center — Allows the owner to remotely operate most Roomba functions, including scheduling (works only with certain third-generation Roombas).
- iRobot Scheduler — Allows the owner to program the Roomba to clean at certain times automatically. The "Schedule Upgrade" accessory will also update a pre-2.1 Roomba to the 2.1 software (for second-generation Roombas).
- Homebase — The Roomba automatically returns to and docks here for recharging (for second- and third-generation Roombas).
- Virtual Wall — Used for keeping the Roomba out of designated areas.
- Virtual Wall Lighthouse — Functionality of Virtual Wall with an additional "Lighthouse" mode, which will contain Roomba in one room until the room is completely vacuumed before moving on to the next. As of 2012, iRobot has sold at least 5 different Virtual Wall designs, with different cases and capabilities.
- Virtual Wall Halo — Designates a circular zone 20" (50 cm) in diameter to protect small items, like pet water and feeding bowls, from being disturbed by a Roomba
- OSMO — A temporary dongle that attaches to the serial port on the Roomba to update a pre-2.1 Roomba's firmware to version 2.1; this also can correct the "circle dance" problem (for all second-generation Roombas).
- Advanced Power System (APS) Battery — Higher-performance rechargeable battery for all Roomba models that holds enough power to clean for 200 minutes.
- Roomba Serial Control Interface (Roomba SCI) — Exposes all the functionalities and sensor information from the iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, for external interfacing. Using the Roomba SCI, a roboticist can command and control the Roomba by connecting to the 7-pin Mini-Din UART port.
- Roo series of accessories, by RoboDynamics
- RooTooth — A Bluetooth module that converts the Roomba to Bluetooth control from any bluetooth device.
- RooStick — Allows programming input through a USB interface.
- Roo232 — Allows programming input through a serial port connector.
- RoombaFX — A C# class by RoboDynamics that implements the entire Roomba SCI command set. Available on Source Forge for download and user contributions.
Hacking and extending Roomba
From the earliest models on, Roomba vacuum cleaning robots have been hacked to extend their functionality. The first adaptations were based on a micro controller that was directly connected to the motor drivers and sensors of the original Roomba. Versions of the Roomba manufactured after October 2005 contain an electronic and software interface that allows hackers to control or modify Roomba’s behavior and remotely monitor its sensors more easily. Hacked roomba drawing a spirograph In response to the growing interest of hackers in their product, the company developed the iRobot Create. In this model the vacuum cleaner motor is replaced by a "cargo bay" for mounting devices like TV cameras, lasers and other robotic parts. The Create provides a greatly enhanced, 25-pin interface providing both analog and digital bidirectional communication with the hosted device. Thus, it can then be used as the mobile base for completely new robots. Together with a computing platform like a netbook or handheld device with wireless networking capacity, it can be remotely controlled through a network.
The Roombas with an interface (400 series models from after October 2005 and newer series like 500 and 700) come with a Mini-DIN connector supporting a TTL serial interface, which is incompatible with standard PC/Mac serial ports and cables, both electrically and physically. However, third-party adapters are available to access the Roomba's computer via Bluetooth, USB, or RS-232 (PC/Mac serial). Roombas pre-October 2005 upgraded with the OSMO hacker device allow the user to monitor Roomba's many sensors and to modify its behavior. The Roomba Open Interface (formerly "Roomba Serial Command Interface") API allows programmers and roboticists to create their own enhancements to Roomba. Several projects are described on Roomba hacking sites.