Should You Get a Robotic Vacuum Cleaner?

Posted on 17/05/2012 by jgendron in Domestic

Since the day robotic vacuums were introduced, household cleaning was changed forever. Due to their sleek design and advanced technology, people are hitting the market to purchase their own robot vacuum cleaner. But is the device worth it? Let's get started with the basics and then check out the most common reasons why you should consider getting your own robot vacuum cleaner.

What is a "Robot" Vacuum Cleaner?

A robot vacuum cleaner does exactly what you are thinking - it vacuums. Unlike your conventional vacuum cleaner however, this one is slightly different... it's smart. "Intelligence" in this case does not mean it has the capacity of a human; it simply does what you need it to do without any human input or control and is able to adapt to its surroundings. A robot vacuum cleaner will vacuum your hard floors and carpets and keep the dirt in a bin to be emptied later. When it has finished, many robot vacuums are capable of finding and settling on their docking station or alternative. Often times, the robot even "speaks" to you to inform you that it is done cleaning.

What does it look like?

Most robot vacuum cleaners like the Roomba and the Infinuvo Cleanmate are circular, 3 to 4 inches high and roughly 12 inches in diameter. On the top of most units you will find the control panel with one or two buttons, though others may have several. Some models have an LCD monitor the robot's status and help you with visual feedback when providing your robot with cleaning instructions. On the front of many robotic vacuums is a half moon shaped spring-loaded or light touch bumper depending on the brand and model. The bumper serves as a sensor for obstacles (walls, furniture, etc.). The Neato robotic vacuum and a few others have a flat front to accommodate  a long flat brush at the front.

How does a Robot vacuum cleaner work?

Almost all robotic vacuum models move around using two drive wheels and one or more non-driven caster wheels. You will also notice a variety of sensors underneath and inside the robot that provide the robot with feedback about its environment (such as detecting stairs or cliffs, the distance it has traveled) and even the status of its electronics. Just like you would find in a normal vacuum, there is a motor to generate suction, and motors to rotate brushes to sweep debris towards the suction. When not in use, a robot would sit quietly on its docking station, which most of them have. Keep in mind to place the robot and the docking station in a open, accessible area; avoid closets or other cramped spaces as they make it very difficult for your robot vacuum cleaner to navigate away and back to the station. The docking station has one main function: to charge the batteries in between cleaning cycles. How does the robot find its way back to the station you might ask? The station casts a light beam to a distance of about 6 feet in a "V" shape which serves as a beacon. During the cleaning cycle, if the robot vacuum senses the light beam, it steers clear of the docking station. Once the cycle is complete or the battery runs down, the robot uses the light beam to happily head home to its docking station. Robot owners without a docking station may manually connect the vacuum to an outlet for charging using the power supply unit provided with the robot. On the scheduled days and time(s), the robot vacuum cleaner leaves the station to set about cleaning. It will not return until the cleaning cycle is complete or its battery runs low. In the event of a battery run-down prior to completing the cleaning cycle, the robot will abort the cleaning cycle and find its way back to station as directly as possible. The schedule is embedded in the robot's program memory. A simple button sequence allows you to set your preferred schedule.

Finding its way around: Navigation

There is no need to sit around while your robot vacuum performs a cleaning cycle; the robot navigates the rooms based on 4 to 5 cleaning modes. For example, the robot vacuum cleaner can clean based on a circular or spiral shaped pattern to cover the entire area. Other modes include wall- following to the center of the room, zigzagging, criss-crossing in diagonals, and more. The Roomba vacuum cleaner is different than many other brands as it gets a little help from virtual walls and/or lighthouses. Virtual walls are included with some models and can be sold separately. This unit sends out an infrared light beam that serves as a gate or virtual wall. When the Robot Vacuum senses the light signal, the unit changes direction to avoid the zone. Lighthouses also feature the infrared light beam like the virtual wall, but is are also equipped with a radio-frequency technology designed to help your robot vacuum cleaner to self position and improve cleaning efficiency. Simply put, lighthouses are beacon-like units that allow the robot to self position and navigate its way back to the docking station, just like ships on the ocean use lighthouses to avoid rocky collisions with the coast and get safely back to port. Infinuvo CleanMate vacuums by Metapo simply rely on its navigation ability as virtual walls and lighthouses are note available.

What are the limitations?

A robot vacuum cleaner will not act as a moderator or get involved in home or office disputes, although they can help by taking away the hassle of vacuum cleaning! They might improve your social life in many ways. Imagine impressing your guests with your robot vacuum cleaner by scheduling a cleaning cycle while you share appetizers and drinks. Here are some important limitations:
  • Most cleaners do not operate beyond a 30 to 35 degree slope, but you hopefully have level floors.
  • They are not capable of climbing or descending stairs.
  • Robot vacuum cleaner light sensors will not work on dark black surfaces.
Keep in mind that robot vacuum cleaners are designed to vacuum floors and carpets. They are not engineered for washing floors. A floor washing robot called Scooba has already been designed for that purpose. Note also that it is not recommended to use a floor cleaning robot on non-sealed hardwood floors or laminates. You will find robot vacuum cleaners do an excellent job at taking away the dirt, but keep in mind they don't benefit from a peripheral vision, so on rare occasions you might find missed particulate.

What are some advantages?


Let’s face it, cleaning is hard, nobody wants to do it and getting a maid doesn’t come cheap nowadays. With the robotic vacuum cleaner, you’ll get your living room, and any room for that matter, spic and span in no time. Its features are that of the regular upright vacuum, only better. The robotic vacuum has different accessories like brushes, filters, cleaning mechanisms, and more, all within a sturdy casing, ensuring the best operation possible.

Easy to Use

The robot vacuum is of course, automatic. It will work unattended; turn it on and let it do its thing. When you come back you’ll find the room sparkling clean. No special setup or configuration needed - just press the button, and the robotic vacuum will start cleaning without supervision. Some robotic vacuums go about the room randomly and may cover the same spot many times, while others are able to scan the room to detect obstacles and know to move around them, resulting in a more methodical approach. Most of these robots are able to recharge on their own if their battery power dips below a certain level; no need to worry about looking for it after it’s done cleaning. It would just be on its docking station waiting for you for its next scheduled assignment.

If there are areas you don't want the robot to clean, each manufacturer has the equivalent of boundary markers; some use infrared light while others use special strips (magnetic or other). Some of the more intelligent robots are able to clean multiple rooms, stopping to recharge when needed and continuing where they left off. Don't want the robot to move around when you're at home? Not a problem. You can schedule the robot to clean at specific hours and (in certain cases) on specific days.


Most current robotic vacuums look like a flat, disk-shaped device. It’s flat so it can go under furniture and disk-shaped so it can turn easily, especially in corners. This design currently seems to be optimal, allowing it to reach all those places a normal vacuum can’t. There’s no need to move sofas, stools, and low-set tables. The vacuum' disk-shape also allows it to go around furniture’s legs and wall corners effectively, cleaning as it goes. Most also feature a bumper to detect and absorb collision with a solid object.


The core technology used inside these robot vacuums is similar to what the army uses to clear land mines. Robotic vacuums contain a variety of different sensors to detect:
  • dirt (not only detect it but to clean that area until no more dirt is detected)
  • drops (like stairs for example)
  • path (it knows where it's been)
  • charging base (it can sense where its base is and get there)
  • obstacles (either by lightly hitting them or detecting them at a distance)
  • battery usage
  • and more...


Robots, just by their connotation, must be really expensive, right? Owning even one robot for personal use seems like a luxury. Well, not these ones. Believe it or not, iRobot’s Roomba ranges from CA $250 to CA $450. While the Infinuvo’s Cleanmate models start at CAD $170. The Neato, which scans a room even before it starts to clean, is less than $500. Mass production has made these intelligent vacuums as inexpensive as normal vacuums.

Upgradeable and Repairable

Worried that something so technologically advanced will break and cost a lot of money to fix? If you buy the vacuum from some retails, you would be right to be scared; however, if you buy from RobotShop, you get a lifetime warranty against failure! Although anyone can do the routine maintenance required to keep the robotic vacuum working (emptying the dust bin, replacing the brushes when they are too worn), some of the more complicated issues ("the robot is turning in a circle" or "it's depressed") are harder to resolve. Send the bot back to RobotShop and they'll take care of it free of charge (assuming it was bought there).

We've all seen those garage sales where a lonely old vacuum lies off to one side being passed up by everyone. Unlike your standard upright vacuum, these can be upgraded with new software to make their cleaning patterns more efficient. Brushes and parts are modular and easily replaced. Want a brush that's better suited for pet hair? Not a problem! Want a battery that lasts longer? They have those too! Want your robots to communicate with each other? That's on the way... Don't be thrown off by "cheap knock offs". As with all popular products, some manufacturers are entering the robotic vacuum market by trying to copy the leaders without any real understanding of the technology or software. These copies are often much lower quality than those that have been on the market for some time, and if they are ever broken, are almost always impossible to repair and not covered by a decent warranty. It's better to pay a few dollars more for something you know can be fixed and is backed by an excellent warranty than trying to save a little only to end up with a disk-shaped paperweight.

If you buy a technological device from a non-technological company, servicing and repairs will be significantly harder than if you purchased from a specialized robotic company like RobotShop. You should also take a look at the warranty offered as this can differ significantly from company to company; a big incentive to buy from specialists is that even after a manufacturer's warranty has run out, you may still be covered for many more years by the distributor you purchased from.

As with all technological devices, there may be a new type of robotic vacuum which comes out in a few years which includes a "must have" feature. However, since the release of the first mass market robotic vacuum, the shape and technology have not changed much. The most recent advancement has been a scanning laser which maps the room and is proprietary technology on the Neato. iRobot has released a physically smaller vacuum than previous models, but the basic technology is the same. It's really up to you to choose the features you want most (self-charging base; room mapping; dirt detection; remote control etc.). These robots may be intelligent and advanced, but are robust enough to last a long time and perform reliably so long as you take care to empty the dust bins and periodically check the machine.

These are just some of the reasons that may urge you to get your own robotic vacuum cleaner. Just imagine the time you’ll save vacuuming your house’s entire floor area. You can do something else with all that time you should have spent cleaning. And in this fast changing world, time saved is definitely worth the price.

Where can I purchase a Robot vacuum cleaner?

RobotShop is the ideal place to purchase your robotic cleaner. Aside from the variety of models available, RobotShop offers a robot vacuum cleaner specialty shop to perform maintenance, diagnostics, and repairs. With all this expertise RobotShop goes a step further by offering you a five year limited lifetime warranty on Roomba robot vacuum cleaners. Find out more on Roomba, Infinuvo CleanMate robot vacuum cleaners, parts and available accessories.
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