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How Do Robot Vacuums Work?


In the past few years, robot vacuums have been steadily gaining popularity since their invention in 1996 by Electrolux. It was perhaps when iRobot Roomba was released when these robotic vacuum cleaners became more known — partly because of pop culture references but more so because of its key features and advantages in owning one.

When it comes to cleaning the house or an apartment, vacuuming may be one of the chores that people dread the most. But with today’s advancements in technology, smart home devices such as robot vacuums have made this task much easier. Practically without any help from us, a robot vacuum can clean hard floors, rugs, and carpets for us on a semi-autonomous level. This cuts down the cleaning time of a person since one is free to do other chores or maybe just lounge around as the robotic vacuums clean.

With that said, let’s take a closer look at how robotic vacuum cleaners work and see how they can further compare to traditional vacuums.

What is a Robot Vacuum Cleaner?

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

Robot vacuum cleaners or robot vacs are semi-autonomous floor cleaners or “dust bins” with a powerful suction programmed to pick up any dirt and debris from carpets, rugs, and hard floors on their own. There are different models of robotic vacuums, the iRobot Roomba alone has over 40 models, but it can either come as corded or cordless with varying brushes, features, and technology.

Unlike a traditional vacuum, a robotic vacuum cleaner needs little to no human intervention for it to navigate its way around when cleaning and can be kept running for a certain period of time so it continues to vacuum the area it’s in and pick up any new dirt or debris on the floor.

How Do Robot Vacuums Navigate?

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

Depending on the model, advanced robotic vacuums would have a navigation system with sensors that will allow the robot vacuum cleaner to detect obstacles and not get stuck on furniture or other objects.

There are also high-end robotic vacuums with mapping technology, which helps the robots to learn the route, “memorize” the layout, and eventually find their way back to the docking station to recharge their battery life after cleaning. Generally, a user will have to save the map through a smartphone app and there are four ways one can do this.

Camera-based Mapping

Robotic vacuums with a built-in digital camera will be taking photos of the area or “landmarks” around the house or apartments and will use it as a guide for their route and what to clean.

Lidar-based Mapping

Using infrared lasers, robotic vacuums can collect data on the size of the room and the obstacles that it has to avoid or look out for. This is the most precise way to assure that the robots will not come across any accidents or create any furniture chipping due to continuous bumping.

Gyroscope or Accelerometer Mapping

For this type of mapping, robot vacuum cleaners work through sensors that will measure the distance and directions of the furniture around the area. Sensors are a common feature of a robotic vacuum cleaner as they are more affordable than lasers or cameras. However, the maps it is able to create are less accurate.

Combined Technologies

A robotic vacuum can also make use of two or three mapping technologies mentioned at once for more accurate and efficient navigation.

However, even with these technologies and mapping features, robo vacs are still semi-autonomous. With this, the user will still need to occasionally check in on these robots as it runs in case they need to be lifted up and repositioned elsewhere especially if it keeps bumping into the same furniture or object. Regardless, less monitoring and lifting are required compared to regular vacuums.

How Do Robot Vacuums Work Without Mapping?

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

A robotic vacuum cleaner without the mapping feature makes use of physical boundary stripes to help set up the specific zones for cleaning and which areas to avoid. Let’s take a look at the three kinds of physical boundary stripes.

Boundary Tape

The most standard type of tape, this is a reflective coating that will tell the robot vacuum where not to cross. The user must personally cut the tape and can layout it accordingly.

Boundary Strips

Similar to the boundary tape where a user must personally layout it to their requirements and preferences, but with the major difference that it cannot be cut into strips. The boundary strips must be placed as is.

Virtual Boundaries

This type of accessory will be done digitally through a smartphone app and the robot vacuum can process this accordingly.

These accessories are a common troubleshooting step that even those with advanced features use because there is still a possibility for a robot vacuum to accidentally fall down the stairs.

How Well Do Robot Vacuums Really Work?

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

Depending on the model and features of the robot vacuum, these small robot floor cleaners have suctions and brushes that can pick up dust, debris, and even pet hair to help make an area spotless and clean.

Oftentimes, people are on the fence about purchasing robot vacuums because the circular bots won’t be able to clean corners or edges, but newer models such as the iRobot Roomba S9 already have a square design so it doesn’t cut on corners. Pun intended.

Of course, there are still limitations when it comes to being able to deep clean certain areas, robot vacuums are still a great cleaning smart device given that they can continuously clean an area for you. Think of it as a semi-passive cleaner that is there to assist you.

Is a Robot Vacuum Really Worth It?

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

For people who hate vacuuming because they see it as a tedious task that requires a lot of time, effort, and heavy lifting, then investing in robo vacs is definitely worth it.

Aside from the features already mentioned, there are models that also offer Google Assistant Integration, which makes these semi-autonomous bots even more easily controllable and programmed to self-function. By connecting the robot vacuum to Google Home, a user can use Google Assistant to command and control a vacuum even while the person is in another room or even not at home yet — certainly a function that a regular vacuum cannot do.

A robotic vacuum with voice assistants can be ordered when to start cleaning, where to go, and when it needs to go back to the docking station so it can charge its rechargeable batteries or empty out its disposable bags — all of which can be done using a smartphone as the main remote control.

There are also models that can mop, have UV sterilization features, built-in security cameras, and intercom systems. Putting all these together, a robot vacuum can be many smart home appliances built into one small machine thus, making it a cleaning device worth investing in.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Robot Vacuums Work?

How much are robot vacuum cleaners?

Although robo vacs are generally more expensive than the traditional upright vacuum cleaner, their advanced features and functions make the cost reasonable. Cheaper models range around the $200 to $400 mark, but the high-end models can cost up to more than $1,000.

What are the best robot vacuum cleaners?

Arguably, the iRobot Roomba is deemed the best robot vacuum cleaner. However, there are lesser-known brands that are also great in their own right especially considering their varying price and features. Check out this guide on the best robot vacuums to find out which model is the best one for you.

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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