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Considering a Robot Vacuum? Here’s What You Should Know

February 20, 2020
By I&T Today

Popularized by the Roomba, robot vacuums have become a new technological norm, keeping the floors of the lazy or the simply-too-busy clean for years. They’ve been around for some time, but many people still struggle to understand how they work. These are smart vacuums that can often navigate around different obstacles, mapping your rooms so that they can clean more efficiently.

Some models map the rooms while others clean randomly. Some can be scheduled while others aren’t as convenient. Still, all robots clean with minimal human input.

If you’re looking for your own robot vacuum, it may be important to understand some of the important features of this luxurious technology. Here, we’ll discuss the best features and specifications that some of the most popular machines come with.

The Basics

The first thing you’ll hear from pretty much any manufacturer is that a robot vacuum isn’t meant to replace your full-size vac. It’s intended to help with general maintenance in case you don’t have as much time to clean the floors throughout the week, as explained by CleanThatFloor.com.

However, a robot can also help if you don’t have any time to clean. In this case, you’ll probably have to invest more money in a high-end robot that you can run every day. Then, you won’t have to use a full-size one any more often than once or twice a month.

Basic features and specifications are pretty much the same regardless of the robot. Some vacuums feature more than just this, but those typically cost more money as well.

Things like cliff sensors, rotating brushes, and battery sensors are the most basic features. They’re designed to help with general maintenance, requiring somewhat more input on your part than a high-end model.

Basic robotic vacuums usually can’t return to their docking stations. They can’t map the room and often can’t see cliffs such as stairs. For this reason, they’re recommended for people who use a full-size vacuum at least once a week.

Mapping

Mapping and navigating are usually found in higher-end robots. Each manufacturer has its own take on this, but in most cases, it revolves around two methods.

In one case, robots with an onboard camera that takes pictures of ceilings, walls, doorways, furniture, stairs, and other landmarks. The other method uses lasers to detect and measure the distance between the vacuum and particular objects. Both are quite efficient, using data combined with what it collects from its other sensors to build a map of the room.

The mapping may not seem necessary, but it offers significant benefits. When a robot has a floor plan, it can map out the most efficient cleaning route. This is why mapping robots move in a seemingly straight pattern, while others move randomly.

Another thing your mapping vacuum can do is localize itself within the map. This tells the vacuum where it’s been and where it still has to go. This also allows it to find the docking charger to recharge after a cleaning session.

However, you should keep in mind that mapping does have setbacks. Vacuums with camera mapping tend to lose their way in low-light conditions, causing them to struggle. Also, dark walls can confuse your robot even if it uses lasers to map the area. Floor-length mirrors might trick the vacuum that the room is bigger than it actually is. These are just a few setbacks, but they aren’t as challenging to deal with when you compare the benefits the robots come with.

Regardless of how much you pay for the robot, it will struggle at times. These vacuums can get tangled in cords and stuck underneath furniture. Navigation and mapping are designed to help the robot to be more efficient with minimal help on your side. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t fail at times.

Sensors

A robot has to have enough space to move around and clean. This means that you should remove all the cables and long curtains that could be in its way. Keep in mind that robots don’t see the way we do. Although some have a camera, they still need various sensors to detect hazards and obstacles. Sensors also discover new areas and measure how far they’ve traveled.

Different robotic vacuums come with various sensors, although some are pretty common. They determine how the vacuum responds to what is ahead of it.

Obstacle Sensors

As we mentioned, your robot sees many things as obstacles. Toys, sofas, chair legs, and coffee tables are only a few things that could be in its way. For this reason, it uses obstacle sensors located near the shock-absorbing bumpers.

The sensor is triggered when the vacuum impacts an object with its bumper. This tells the vacuum to move away and find a clear path. The bumper also determines the direction. So, if it hits on the left side, it will probably turn right.

Although this helps its overall performance, it can often affect it the other way around. Maneuvering around obstacles can leave spots of floor unattended. For this reason, some vacuums don’t move away from the barrier. Instead, they use the sensor to see it before slowing down as they approach.

As a result, a robot will gently touch the object without damaging it. This allows it to move through bed skirts and curtains as well.

Wall Sensors

These are designed to help the vacuum detect walls using infrared light. This way, it won’t move away from the wall, but approach it slowly, cleaning along the edges.

It’s a highly useful sensor that allows the robot to clean along edges without damaging and scuffing the wall. On top of that, those that have mapping use wall sensors to go around open doorways and new areas every time.

Cliff Sensors

The biggest danger that robot vacuums face is the stairs. The damage caused by falling down the stairs could be irreparable. This is why they have cliff sensors to help them avoid disaster.

Cliff sensors use infrared signals to measure the distance to the floor. They send them to the surface, figuring that there’s a cliff if the infrared signals don’t bounce back immediately. Once it senses the cliff, the robot turns around and moves in another direction.

Wheel Sensors

Robots use light sensors to measure the rotation of the wheels. Using the number and the wheel circumference, it calculates how far it has traveled. This is a bit of old technology and is now usually used to lower-end models.

It’s not the most efficient method as it makes robots vacuum in weird patterns. These sensors don’t do much to help, and you’ll notice the robot taking multiple passes over the same area, resulting in longer vacuuming and uneven cleaning.

Benefits and Advantages

The technology behind robot vacuums makes these gadgets among the easiest to use. With a full battery, a robot can clean your floors without any input on your part. Although some vacuums struggle more than others depending on their sensors, most of them do a decent job.

A robot is much smaller than a conventional vacuum, which allows it to clean in tight areas. This makes the vacuum ideal for pet owners as it can pick up hair and dander from under furniture as well.

Nearly every robot is also quite lightweight. You can carry it around quickly, especially when compared to how heavy traditional vacuums are.

The most significant advantage is that it helps you to maintain your floors clean without as much hassle. So, if you use a full-size vacuum two or three times a week, try running a robot every day. You’ll notice that you won’t have to use the big machine more than once a week.

Drawbacks

The biggest setback is that robot vacuums can sometimes miss certain areas. Although most high-end models have mapping technology and advanced sensors, things can still go wrong.

Lower-end models clean in random patterns, which might leave lots of areas unattended. Most of them can clean it all but may take more than an hour to do so. In most cases, their batteries don’t allow this.

This leads us to another setback: battery life. Robot vacuums are battery-operated and cordless. Although this allows them to move freely without messing with the cord, it also limits their run time.

Most models have a run time of about 30 minutes, although some more expensive models can run for an hour. However, this usually depends on cleaning modes, because a “boost mode” can reduce its run time by more than a half.

Also, robots have small dust bins. It can’t handle as much debris as full-size vacuums, and you’ll have to empty it quite frequently, depending on how dirty your floors are.

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