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How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?


Robot vacuums have come a long way since they were first invented in 1996. From initially having trouble in navigating to now autonomously mapping an entire floor plan no matter how huge the space and long the distance, the different technologies of robot vacuums have immensely improved.

In this article, we aim to answer the question of how exactly do robot vacuums map the room accurately and navigate a room by themselves so they can clean effectively.

Do Robot Vacuum Cleaners Need Mapping?

How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?

For robot vacuums to detect a cleaning path and know which direction they should take to avoid obstacles and other hazards, these robots will need mapping capabilities. Without mapping technology, the cleaning efficiency of a robot vacuum cleaner will be affected.

Generally, a robot vacuum that maps will be quicker in cleaning an area as opposed to a robot vacuum that cannot. There’s also a lesser chance that a robot vacuum that can map an area to bump into objects and damage furniture. 

However, all robot vacuums don’t need to be equipped with mapping technology as some will reply on random robot vacuum navigation. Robot vacuums that fall under this category are most likely entry-level robots.

Choosing between a robot vacuum with mapping technology and one without will depend on your preference and requirements. Fortunately, we’ve created the ultimate robot vacuum buying guide to help you out with your decision.

How Does a Robot Vacuum Map Your House?

How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?

Robot vacuums can learn your house by way of mapping. However, the way they map your home will vary as different models have various sensors and technology.

While the two most common types of technology used by many robot vacuums are Camera-based Mapping Systems and Light Detection and Ranging Mapping, there are more ways robot vacuums map a home or floor plans of a room.

Camera-based Mapping

A robot vacuum cleaner that makes use of this technology can create a map of your space through onboard cameras. The robot vacuum will be taking photos of the area and any “landmarks” it should take note of using the built-in digital camera equipped by the manufacturers.

The images taken combined with the data retrieved by the sensors of the robotic vacuum will then be used to build a layout of the floor plan, rooms, and home.

Light Detection and Ranging Mapping

Also known as LiDAR-Based Mapping, vacuum robots that make use of this technology have infrared lasers and sensors built into them by manufacturers. A robot vacuum that makes use of LiDAR-Based Mapping collects data from what its sensors were able to measure.

The robot vacuum will measure the distance between itself and obstacles such as chair legs, open doorways, and objects in its path, and even detect walls to help build a map and layout of the room.

A robot vacuum clear with LiDAR technology will need multiple cleaning runs to get a more accurate layout of the room. An example of a robotic vacuum cleaner that makes use of LiDAR technology is the iRobot Roomba.

Another example is the Neato Botvac, which even has a smartphone app where you can see a digital layout of the map it was able to create using its different sensors.

Gyroscope or Acceloremeter Mapping

Robot vacuums that make use of this technology have built-in sensors that will measure the distance and direction of an object in an area. A lot of robot vacuums use sensors as these are more affordable than lasers or cameras.

However, a robot vacuum that makes use of this technology or relies solely on sensors will most probably create a less accurate map of the room, which can affect the cleaning session.

Combined Technologies

Robot vacuums with combined technologies make use of two or more systems combined with other sensors. Advanced robot vacuums and high-end models would make use of combined technologies for mapping, making them more accurate in creating a layout but more expensive.

How Does an iRobot Map a Room?

How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?

An iRobot Roomba maps a room using a technology called Visual Simultaneous Location and Mapping or vSLAM for short. In the initial cleaning session, the Roomba will navigate a room, move around the floor, and mark areas, landmarks, or objects that it will need to remember.

The more cleaning sessions the Roomba has, the more accurately it can map the room.

How a Robot Vacuum Navigates

How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?

The way a robot vacuum works is through a navigation system with sensors to help it detect objects, avoid obstacles, and navigate a path for better coverage and efficient cleaning. The equipped sensors will vary depending on the model of the robot vacuum.

Such sensors are used by robot vacuums to help them navigate our wall sensors, cliff sensors, wheel sensors, light sensors, and obstacle sensors. Without these sensors, the robovac might end up in a different direction from where you want it to go as it will rely on a random navigation system.

Wall sensors help robot vacuums detect walls by using infrared light. This sensor helps a robot vacuum clean and navigate along the edges of where the wall would meet the floor.

Cliff sensors act as a safety requirement for all robot vacuums as they help avoid accidents such as falling down a flight of stairs or possible “cliffs” from happening. The cliff sensor would measure the distance to the floor with the help of infrared signals.

Wheel sensors and light sensors help robot vacuums navigate as these two allow the unit to calculate the wheel rotation. This allows a robot vacuum to decipher how far it has already traveled. These also help a robot vacuum to go back to its base should the battery starts running low.

A robot vacuum does not only move in a straight line largely due to obstacle sensors. These sensors also help prevent a robot vacuum from bumping into an object and causing any damage. In a way, it also helps signal a robot vacuum in which objects and rooms are off-limits.

Final Note

How Do Robot Vacuums Map the Room?

There are various ways in which a robot vacuum would map a room. The technology used will affect the cleaning efficiency, navigation, battery life, and even the price of the unit. Although not all homeowners will need a robot vacuum that has mapping technology, it pays to invest in one for the best results.

Sota Takahashi

Sota Takahashi is a Japanese-born electrical engineer. At the age of 18, he moved to Seattle and completed his Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Washington, Seattle. Being a fan of all things tech, he channels his geeky side through this website, and with his wife Linda, shares knowledge about robot pets and how they can be lifelong and advantageous companions for both children and the elderly.

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